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10 Catalytic Questions for Volunteer Leaders

As a catalyst, you have the power to create momentum for positive change.

Whether you are a new or returning president, board member, committee chair, church leader, PTA leader or community leader, there is great potential before you. You come to this opportunity with unique skills, thoughts and perspectives.

As a nonprofit leader you have the added advantage of the “passion factor” (i.e., a sincere passion for the cause that brings you to volunteer). Let’s tap it!

Read this article – take what applies. Write down your thoughts. Utilize this to further your own thinking and enjoy the process!

Here are 10 essential visioning questions for every nonprofit leader:

  1. Start with why - Why are you involved in this organization? Start with your passion and be able to articulate it for others – it is your strongest, heart-based leadership starting point. Know it. State it. Utilize it to generate enthusiasm for your organization.

  2. Voice your hopes and dreams - What are your talents, hopes and dreams? Know that you have come to this position for a reason and acknowledge that you bring a unique set of talents. Be bold enough to imagine the future. What are your greatest hopes and dreams for your organization? Be specific. What does it look like one year from now (i.e., structures, systems, norms, processes, people)? What’s different? What’s the same? Envision it.

  3. Articulate a general vision - What’s working/not working? You probably come to this moment with specific observations and leadership experience – in organizations, in families and in communities. Your instincts and ideas matter. Own them.

  4. Take inventory of the written word - What’s written down? With the inevitability of volunteer turnover, written documentation is an important way of capturing knowledge and ensuring that the next generation of leaders does not have to reinvent the wheel. By the same token, too much information can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Take an objective, efficient approach as you look at what’s recorded. Commit to creating a model that others can build and improve upon.

  5. Formulate a specific vision - Where are we now? Where would we like to be? Vision is not seeing things as they are but as you would like them to be (source unknown). The two questions listed here represent a culminating set of questions that move us from general to specific. Write your answers on paper. They bring your vision into focus and offer a starting point for planning.

  6. Gather other perspectives - What do others think? Create a “Dream Team.” Consult with others who have been involved with the organization and start formulating a shared vision. Ideally, this process begins months before you take office so that momentum can build. Alternately, the process might take place in your first week of office – the most important thing is to make sure the discussion happens. Utilize your executive or planning committee. If you are a team of one – think of the people with whom you’d like to work. Invite them to a meeting to tap their expertise and generate ideas for improvement. Formulate your “Dream Team.”

  7. Think about meetings – Why and how often do we meet? Meetings are momentum creating events. Your roles as a leader are to ensure that the work gets done AND create positive momentum. Look at meetings from an objective perspective. Is there a more creative way to approach meetings? Who needs to be there and why? What needs to be accomplished? Most people will be “satisfied” with a “regular” meeting; let’s reach for more. How can you utilize them to energize, enthuse and motivate? It may mean bringing in a speaker; it may mean integrating a "purpose-full" activity. Meetings are your opportunity to engage others and keep the ball moving forward.

  8. Create action plans - How are we going to get there? Goal-setting is a universal principle that ensures all the parts are moving in the same direction. You have formulated a vision. Now break it down. What are your top 3 priorities? In each priority area, what specific actions will you take to ensure steady progress? Put it in writing. Encourage/expect your volunteer leaders to do the same. Have your volunteers share their “TOP 1” at a meeting. Reward those who submit their goals. Establish a new path for the future!

  9. Know your expectations - What am I expecting from myself and others? We get what we expect. Know what you are expecting of the leaders who have committed to work with you. In my experience, it all comes down to one basic principle: don’t drop the ball. When I work with nonprofits, this basic principle is met with a chuckle - there seems to be universal agreement that this is an important point. We discuss what it means while we toss a ball around the room. We talk about why the ball drops, how we feel when it happens and how to prevent it from happening. We write a “pledge” and commit to it. Remember that it is fair to expect something. Nonprofit leadership is like parenting with wisdom – we must have high expectations, preserve the gifts and talents and spirits of those we are nurturing and be poised to forgive. By the way, if attending board meetings is an expectation, reward those who come by utilizing their time well and making it enjoyable.

  10. Prepare for kick-off – How will you indicate a new beginning? You have created an opportunity for a new beginning. It will be helpful if you designate a starting point – select a moment to intentionally share your vision, hopes and dreams. Start with why. Involve the masses – gain public commitment – set a theme for the year around which your team can rally. This is a momentum creating moment. Mark the moment – and begin.

Follow your instincts. Commit to empowering others. Build systems. Know that anything is possible – if you envision it first.

*Share your success stories with me! I’d love to hear from you.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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