Are Volunteers actually Mythical Creatures?

You are here

As we write (and rewrite!) our upcoming book, we’re thinking a lot about how current beliefs conflict with the cultural norms required to integrate volunteers and salaried employees into one team.

In fact, we’ve focused one full chapter on how to “Create a People Culture.”

There are a lot of “old” myths about volunteers that keep us from leveraging a huge pool of available talent. To combat these myths, and begin to create new ones, we’ve started using alternate language like “external talent” and “knowledge philanthropist.”

Are the following two BIG myths alive and well in your organization?

Myth #1 – Volunteers are not accountable

We often hear statements like, “If a volunteer is doing the work, they don’t really have to do it. After all, they volunteered.”

In North America, we’ve allowed that myth to infiltrate organizations. It is difficult to work productively with people if they are not accountable, and leaders and managers often feel they cannot ask the volunteer to be accountable. Therefore, many leaders are reluctant to work with volunteers.

In fact, today’s knowledge philanthropist wants to be engaged in work that is mission-critical and requires a high level of accountability. This makes their contribution meaningful. They will rise to the occasion when we give them tremendous responsibility. In our experience, leaders and managers are much more successful engaging highly skilled people when they expect a high level of accountability.

Myth #2 – Volunteers are amateurs; the work they do is substandard

A second (widely accepted) myth is if a volunteer is doing a task, it will not be as well done as if a salaried employee did it.

In fact, by recruiting and hiring only the best and the most talented people (salaried staff and volunteers) with unique skills and expertise, we can build a team that performs with excellence. Everyone is passionate about and dedicated to the cause; and works together, valuing each other’s unique talents, to deliver the mission.

Let’s start debunking these myths by having conversations about them, and creating space for people to voice their concerns.

How does your organization perpetuate these myths? How does/will your organization deal with these myths? Or ARE they myths?

About the Author

No bio available.


Anthony Brown's picture
Anthony Brown (not verified) on

Thank you Colleen,

Our organization, the David Smith Youth Treatment Centre, is in the very early stages of integrating volunteers into our processes.  Over coming the pre-conceived notions about volunteers amongst long-standing stakeholders. .  .I shoud say SOME long-standing stakeholders will be challenge #1. 

We will be sure to share your blog post througout our group


Colleen Kelly's picture
Colleen Kelly (not verified) on

Appreciate your comment, Anthony, and would be interested to know if you are successful in overcoming this long-held thinking... Some of our colleagues tell us the best way to start working closely with volunteers is by having everyone "name the elephant"! So asking the question why people don't like to work with volunteers can be a good start.


JAMMY's picture
JAMMY (not verified) on

Hi Colleen Kelly>Good morning . AM JAMMY who from South Asian Country of Bangladesh.its my 1st time to learn about your country as well as your best valuable script as you have written here. Basically am support your view of objects. At the same time volunteers motivation. My opinion : its a new idea which got from you and we can apply for the under developing country where poverty,autistic,orphan children,un educated children and want of health care issues are looking your best mission and vision. I'm a social conscious being and try to looking for those optimistic beings whom are not getting proper human rights and social responsibilities as well.I would like to work together and may be I can share with you from our social and cultural feature always. My aim is to create a new solution overall country helpless being whom are really getting suspect. Highly appreciated if you response me in this regard. Again committed : I would like to work with you on behalf of our country.Thank you and hopping your best reply from you.
Z. I.Jammy
MBA, BSS(Hons)BSS(Hons) MSS add:

Colleen Kelly's picture
Colleen Kelly (not verified) on


Thank you for your interest in our work! We have a focus at this time on working with North American organizations to examine their cultures and structures. I am afraid we are not knowledgeable enough about your culture or practice to be able to work with you... We certainly admire you for your work and wish you much success!

Christine Maassen's picture
Christine Maassen (not verified) on

Great post Colleen, makes a lot of sense.

May I suggest another myth?

People are motivated by their salary. This is simply not the case. Skilled volunteerism in the not for profit world offers an incredible opportunity to have people fulfill a profond desire and need: to connect with work that has meaning, something that is not always is not always easy in today's workplace. Why would we not want to leverage this win-win opportunity?


Colleen Kelly's picture
Colleen Kelly (not verified) on

Thanks Christine. That is definitely another myth, and we "skirt" around the idea. Your comment tells me we must say it boldly as you have here. We know that is true. It could be so easy for all of us in not-for-profits to fulfill that desire in people, and leverage their talent in a win-win situation in our organizations.

t: 604 875 9144
f: 604 875 0710
1183 Melville Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 2X5


Donate to Vantage Point and transform the leadership competencies of British Columbia not-for-profit executive directors, board members, staff and volunteers

Facebook icon.Twitter icon. Twitter icon. Youtube icon.