Greater volunteer engagement, pet projects, promotionshere’s how to fast-track progress toward your goals

Once, there was a volunteer manager named Midge. Midge ran the volunteer program for a large after-school organization. She managed hundreds of volunteers who tutored, mentored, and advocated for low-income children in her community. The program was well-regarded and Midge loved her job.

Midge thought it would be good to start a pilot program – an advisory council to offer feedback to staff and the board.  She was excited about the project and saw huge benefits for her nonprofit.  She anticipated some resistance – she would need more buy-in from leadership. The staff would need to come around to the idea, too.

Having these conversations made Midge uneasy. She was more comfortable when everyone was already on the same page. And besides, she wasn’t sure when she would have time to actually make this project happen.  She was already so busy – it would be a stretch to pull it off and stay on top of everything else.

Even though the pilot was a priority for Midge, she never seemed to find the “right” time to get her project off the ground. She finally gave up, telling herself that her organization was doing ok without the council.

What was Midge’s greatest barrier for realizing this project? Was it the lack of buy-in from leadership? Resistance from staff? Her busy schedule?

The answer is: none of the above. These challenges were all surmountable if Midge had added one thing to her planning:


By accountability, I mean setting deadlines and having a mechanism to ensure that you meet those deadlines. All of the other actions that need to occur to realize a goal – the buy-in, the strategizing, the logistical considerations – all of those are secondary to your intention to take action.

It’s accountability that keeps you moving forward, even when you’re feeling uncomfortable. It’s the accountability that helps you stretch yourself and master new skills.

For Midge, accountability would have helped her initiate her buy-in conversations and persevere, even when she felt like giving up.

What does Accountability look like?

Accountability is often the missing piece when we set a personal goal. Unless a deadline is imposed from above, by a supervisor or leader, we might overlook the importance of this practice.

Fortunately, there many different ways to fold accountability into your plans.

Here are my top three picks:

  1. Work with a coach

There is something incredibly motivating about setting a goal, giving yourself a deadline, and reporting back to a person who is non-judgmental and totally in your corner.

Sometimes the results can be dramatic. One of my coaching clients wanted to launch a staff training on volunteer supervision. It was a project she had intended to do for years. By working together, planning next steps and setting deadlines to reach them, this client got the training approved and the pilot designed in just three months.


  1. Go DIY and state your goal out loud

We can create accountability for ourselves simply by stating our goal out load. When I recruited volunteers for a CASA program, I dreaded having to reject unqualified applicants. The prospect of leaving someone disappointed or even angry put knots in my stomach.  My default was to postpone those calls as long as possible, which only compounded the angst.

Finally, I started announcing to my co-workers when I was going to make the calls. I would set a date, knowing if I welshed on my self-imposed deadline, my avoidance would be obvious to everyone.

The end result? Over time, the calls became easier to make. My comfort zone expanded and the turn-aways became just another part of the job.


  1. Get yourself an Accountability Partner

Perhaps the most fun way to create accountability is to find yourself a buddy. Accountability Partners are like-minded individuals who hold one another to the commitments they make.

Accountability Buddies meet on a regular basis – say for 30 minutes once a week. They report out on any goals they set previously and establish new goals to work towards by the next meeting. When you find the right partner, you’ll find yourself progressing much faster.


Stick with the Status Quo – or Grow?

A smart supervisor is already using accountability to build your abilities. He or she is assigning you projects that are  out of your comfort zone, knowing that you are capable of achieving more than you realize.  You get those projects done because your boss expects them. And in the process, you discover that you’re capable of much more than you realized.

Then again, you may never have to push yourself beyond your boss’ expectations. Take Midge – she’ll still earn a paycheck, even without starting her volunteer council. She can remain in her comfort zone, maintaining the status quo.

But my experience shows me that volunteer managers want more.  We see the need for projects that our leadership does not yet value. It’s up to us to make them happen.

I think of the volunteer managers in my Leadership Circle. They use the goal-setting and accountability to keep them focused on big wins: promotions, learning to delegate, managing organizational change.  These colleagues are believers in the power of meeting a deadline.

One Circle member sent me a note at year’s-end. All it said was, “thanks for keeping me on track.”

A simple practice, accountabality. And a game-changer.

Volunteer Managers: want to finally implement those volunteer impact measures? My June 20 webinar walks you step-by-step through the steps and the accountability you need to successfully complete your metrics.

Check out ‘Getting ready for a Volunteer Impact Strategy Session’ at