Start the New Year by reflecting on your value in the workplace

Last month as we closed out 2017, I asked the members of my Volunteer Managers Leadership Circle to reflect on what they had accomplished over the year together, and to consider on how those accomplishments related to their overall professional value.

The accomplishments were as varied and impressive as the individual members.

Here are just two examples –

•  One member said that her goal starting out was to bring herself back from the edge of burnout and that she not only accomplished that, she discovered that she brought in more volunteers by setting healthy limits around her work and delegating more to her team.

•  Another member had thought she might change professions before the year was out, but since then she has earned her CVA, embarked on a major revamp of volunteer policies and procedures, and realized that she could transform her volunteer program from a department of one to a team that she had the chops to lead.

These leaders of volunteers are probably a lot like you. They are dedicated, incredibly skilled and work with integrity. And from these examples alone, you can sense how much value they contribute to their organizations.

Even so, the members of this group had trouble answering my second question.

Do you earn a competitive salary, and – if you are underpaid, how to you manage that disconnect?

Every single member had the same response – they did not know if their salary was below market or not:

•  One member, who works for a fairly large nonprofit, said that her human resources department did a salary survey for the entire organization. HR determined that she was being paid $5,000 less than market value. Her first response when told about her upcoming raise was that she didn’t deserve it – especially compared to staff who ran programs.

•  Another member said, “I’ve always been told that your salary shouldn’t matter if you love what you do. But I have to admit that reasoning never made sense to me.”

•  Another member seconded that observation, adding that her salary was supplemental to her spouse’s, so she accepted the salary and raises she was offered.

The Leadership Circle was grappling with an issue that I’m guessing most of us can appreciate. They did not know how to equate the value of their specialized skills and talents – not to mention the gains they had made in the Circle – with what they brought home in their paycheck.

Even so, this group was very engaged in the conversation. It seemed to be a relief to finally talk about salary and how it affected their work because the question is always there in the background.

So how do we make sense of our professional value when we do not receive a salary that’s commensurate with our contributions?

Business Guru Seth Godin, who blogs a lot about the relationship between price and value, says:

“If you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, there are only two possible reasons:

  1. People don’t know what you’re worth, or
  2. You’re not (currently) worth as much as you believe”

Clearly, I believe that volunteer managers fall into the first group.  In large part, we’re not paid what we’re worth because our decision-makers don’t fully understand what we do. And if that’s true, then how do we show them?

Here are four ways to demonstrate your value:

  1. Get clear about your value and the value of your program. Right now – without waiting for your next performance review, take the time to write down ALL of your workplace accomplishments for 2017. Then, put a dollar value against each one. You may find it challenging to assign a monetary value to your actions– that’s partly the point. This exercise will start you thinking about your value and how you can communicate that to your nonprofit leaders.
  2. Set the intention to demonstrate the impact of your volunteer program in more that output measures like the number of volunteers or clients-served – and make it your business to get that data in front of decision-makers.
  3. Make our collective data available by sharing the results of Tobi Johnson’s Volunteer Management Progress Report. The report is providing a growing body of knowledge about salary ranges across the profession. Some volunteer managers have already used this information to advocate for raises.
  4. Remember that the emotional impact of volunteer work is impressive and that stories are powerful. Find new ways to get your volunteer stories out there to build your program’s credibility and inspire others. – on the website, shared in staff meetings, through social media.

Finally – and perhaps ironically, our profession is about to receive a boost from the new federal tax laws. Nonprofits stand to lose a substantial amount of charitable income from donors who are no longer incented to take a tax deduction. Doesn’t that make volunteers – and those of us with the skills and experience to lead them – more valuable than ever?

As volunteer managers, we’re the ones who help our nonprofits fulfill their missions in a cost-effective manner. And we’re the one who build relationships with the individuals most likely to continue giving of their time and money.

We’re not superfluous. We’re priceless.


Volunteer Managers: tell the full story of impact with volunteer groups: My February 13 webinar walks you through the what and how of creating mission-driven metrics.  Check out Creating Impact Indicators for your Corporate Days of Service. Space is limited – register today!