5 Steps to Holding Volunteers Accountable

Go to “HELP” in DACdb and find “Committee” on the left-hand navigator.

You may be thinking, “You just can’t hold volunteers accountable”. What?? I’ve actually heard that statement, an idea that just blows my mind. If that were indeed true, volunteer organizations would never get anything accomplished.

Think about it — if your neighbor calls and says, “Let’s play tennis at 7 am tomorrow”, and you say “Yes”, are you not accountable to be there? You don’t work for him, and he’s not paying you, right? People of good character are, in fact, fully accountable to anyone and everyone they make commitments to. And, if it becomes impossible to deliver, they’re accountable to say so as soon as they realize that, or to find someone else who will deliver for them.

Since we, even as volunteers, are, in fact, accountable to do what we say we’ll do, as are those we surround ourselves with, how do we ensure that those you’re counting on for help stick to what they committed to?

First, clearly establish the Vision: • What are we trying to do? • What does success look like?

Second, identify people that you can count on to help lead and execute part of the vision. A lot has been accomplished by extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. There aren’t a lot of those. Break the work down into parts that ordinary human beings doing ordinary things can accomplish. “Many hands make light work.”

Third, for each of those, lay out your expectations in writing. Use a format something like the Committee Chair Expectations Worksheet: • Vision — What is the Committee expected to accomplish? • Strategies — What strategies/actions are the Committee expected to execute? • Metrics — How will we measure success? • Support — What resources (people, money, etc.) are available to help?

Simply stated, “Here’s what I need from you. Here’s what you can expect from me.”

Fourth, sit down face to face with the person you expect to be accountable, and make the “ASK”: • “How does this role sound to you?” • “Is this something you can get passionate about?” • “Can you see yourself leading this for me?”
• “Can I count on you to lead this part of my team?”

Finally, “You can expect what you inspect.” Pull out the Committee Chair Expectations Worksheet on occasion. Check in regularly with those you’re counting on to execute. Ask them for progress updates. Sit in on a committee meeting occasionally. If they stumble, ask them “What’s getting in the way?”, and help eliminate those roadblocks. Plan your follow-ups and progress updates so there’s plenty of time to regroup and reboot if the original plan isn’t working.

Bottom line? As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” If you call up your neighbor to play tennis at 7 am tomorrow, and he says, “I’ll try”, what do you do? Call another neighbor.

Accountability isn’t tied to compensation. Whether you’re paying someone or not, if you’ve made your expectations clear and asked “Can I count on you?”, it’s fair to expect them to come through, find someone else who will, or give you a timely heads up if something comes up that prevents them from doing so.