How To Recruit Leaders In Your Volunteer Organization

Shortly after joining a new church, the council president enthusiastically revealed that I was part of their “volunteer leadership succession plan.” I politely declined and spent the next month working to act less “leader-like” at church. Plus, I figured if I skipped coffee hour, I could dodge the recruiters.

Busy people freak out when asked to lead too much too soon.

Some of your volunteer organization’s best qualified leaders are convinced they’re too busy to lead. And so the same dedicated generals continue to carry the load.

They’re busy too, but feel stuck… they’ve invested too much to see it all fall apart. It’s not as fun as at used to be, but they’ve got the template. That’s risky too.

How to Recruit Volunteer Leaders

When people lead, they connect more deeply to your mission and to one another. Connection feels good. They stay. Make volunteer leadership easier and more accessible.

  1. Create Bite Size Roles – This will annoy the guy who did the whole job for the last 20 years… you’ll need to politely tell him to chill. He needs relief, and it’s a new day. Consider breaking the bigger jobs down into something a strong leader with an already booked life could imagine herself doing.
  2. Inventory Talents & Skills – You need to know what people are eager to give. Some will be too humble to tell you. I was directing a children’s musical at our church, and was thinking I’d have to bother the usual suspects to paint the set. One of the newer members came to me with his portfolio of AMAZING art, as if he were applying for a job. I had to resist the urge to kiss this man I didn’t know. He spent countless hours creating an amazing scene. Bottom line, we didn’t know, and would have never have asked.
  3. Limit Terms – It’s easy to rely on the same people to do the same thing year after year. The shoes become too big to fill, and the unintended side effect is intimidation…not to mention stagnation. Plus, knowing there’s an exit strategy is attractive. Everyone saw how the last guy got stuck.
  4. Include Young People & Give Them Power – Kid’s have enormous leadership potential. Scaffold gently, and take some risks. My teenage son gets so annoyed when adults try to micro-manage his leadership efforts. He’s got it… Give kids room and watch the magic.
  5. Empower Possibility – Volunteer organizations have a habit of asking someone to “lead” and then tell them exactly how it should be done. That will turn off your most creative volunteer leaders. Be willing to accept radically new approaches and new ideas.
  6. Communicate Opportunities – “Who should we ask to lead this?” is asked by committees all over the world. That question depends on established connections and may overlook the most qualified. Communicate opportunities and cast a broader net.
  7. Allow Failure – Criticism and gossip will turn away your best leaders FOREVER. They’ve got enough of that crap in their day job. Encourage, develop, and make it okay to experiment and fail forward.

4 Surprising Reasons You’re Hiring The Wrong Candidate

You work hard to select the right candidate. Missing the mark is emotionally and financially expensive. Take a deeper look at your processes. The techniques you use to find Ms. Right, may be leaving you with Mr. Just Okay. Don’t settle for good, attract great.

4 Surprising Reasons You’re Hiring the Wrong Candidate

  1. It’s Not them, It’s You – Top-notch internal candidates do their homework. They know which leaders will challenge, develop, and grow their careers. If you don’t have candidates approaching you about opportunities before you have an opening, take a look at your leadership. Be the leader everyone wants to work for and tells their friends about. Improve you, to attract them.
  2. Too Much Help From HR – I spent the first decade of my career in HR and have recruited and hired thousands. I also know how I was measured in those roles. Diversity mix, time to hire, % with college degree. All useful considerations, but your HR team may have other motivations than hiring the best candidate for your role. If HR is pushing you to hire a candidate for the “wrong” reasons, push back. Engage your HR team as strategic partners in your success. Link their measurements of success to yours. Slow down and keep looking if necessary. Let diversity be the side effect of great talent, not the driving force.
  3. They Nail The Structured Interview – HR loves structured interviews because they keep hiring managers from asking something stupid. I find they’re a great gauge of one competency: how well the candidate’s mastered the structured interview process. You want a candidate with the right experience, not just interviewing experience. Structured interviewers get better with practice. Supplement your structured interview with deeper questions and lots of homework to verify their stories. See also How To Stink At A Behavior-Based Interview and Interviewing: 4 Ways To Set Yourself Apart.
  4. You’re Using A Robust Recruiting System – Recruiting systems make hiring managers lazy. Systems like Evolve provide rigor in identifying candidates against an ideal profile. Useful in many contexts, particularly in call centers and other entry-level hiring, such systems are helpful, but not sufficient. I’ve seen too many companies select candidates that look great on paper, who quit or are fired in the first 90 days. You can’t outsource selection to a system, or even to an HR department. Insist on being part of the hiring process.

The Biggest Recruiting Mistake

The recruiting process for my first job was intense. The sales pitch began with shiny brochures and a promise that once I “graduated” from this “elite” and “intense” management training program, I could move to any aspect of the company. “It was a great start for HR, training, or frontline leadership.” From there the recruiting and interviewing continued; interviews, simulations, case studies, presentations, personality tests, cocktails with senior leaders.

I accepted the offer and graduated at the “top” of the class.

Then I was told I had no options, but I should be delighted that the finance track they had laid out for me was a prestigious one.

I left the company. Our mutual investment wasted.

Beyond the Benefits

When recruiting top talent, you must sell the benefits. It’s a competitive environment and employees want so much more than money. Convince them why you are the best.

Most recruiting efforts do that well.

Before you make the offer, get real.

Over the years, depending on the job I have said things such as,

  • “I am in intense boss with high-expectations”
  • “There are times when the pressure will feel crazy”
  • “You will start work on Black Friday at 3 am”
  • “You will spend much of your life in airports”
  • “You will likely have to move again.”
  • “…”

Get others involved

  • Let the candidate talk to seasoned employees.
  • Let her shadow and hang around
  • Encourage him to ask tough questions
  • Tell them all the downsides

I have talked one or two candidates out of the job. Thank goodness for all that saved time

Mostly, the “real deal” recruiting talk seems to have an opposite effect. The right candidates appreciate the candor and are invigorated by the challenge.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

Most companies use behavior-based interviews for leadership jobs.

Many leaders are really bad at them.

I have seen many highly qualified candidates not get hired because of their inability to tell the right story in the right way.

In a Behavioral Based Interview, candidates are asked to describe a situation, share what happened, and communicate the results. In other words, to share a story.

Behavior-based questions work well because they require the candidate to draw on real experiences and communicate stories in an articulate way.

They can also backfire, when great candidates bomb the interview because of lack of preparation.

How to Stink at a Behavior-Based Interview

  • Pick the wrong story, usually the first one that comes to mind
  • Select a story with a bad ending
  • Get carried away in your story-telling, sharing too much detail and going in circles
  • Leave out the detail, leaving too much to the imagination.
  • Forget to share the point of your story
  • Share a story in which you did not have a central role (sharing someone else’s success)
  • Over-use of the word “I” when you are describing an effort you led
  • Keep using the same job or example over and over (don’t laugh, this is one of the most common mistakes)
  • ???

How to Prepare for Success

  • Make a list of the competencies or skills most required for the job
  • Go back through your work experiences, and find the best examples (stories) that showcase your skills in these areas.
  • Develop a plan for which stories you plan to share
  • Build out your stories to include brief context, specific actions, and results
  • Practice telling them to a mentor or friend
  • ???

It is useful to keep a journal or archive of your best stories that you can call on as needed. Capture the details while the story is fresh so it will be easier to recall when the time is right. I am known for reminding my team to “remember this story” for their next interview or elevator speech, right after we have experienced a success.

Also, most leaders I know are more than willing to help their teams prepare for interviews and to consider the right stories to include. It is helpful to do a mock interview or two with a boss or mentor before you are even looking for the next opportunity.