At a recent meeting I attended, a report was given about a brochure that was not completed by the desired deadline. While most members responded with a groan — as this has happened more than once — another raised his hand and recommended that we gather pricing for what it would take to have a professional do the job next year instead of a volunteer.

It reminded me of a quote from another meeting regarding the roles of the paid office staff vs. the functions volunteers are asked to play. “Is it the role of the central office to bake the cake and the volunteers are to put on the icing?” he asked*.

Are volunteers expecting to do it all? Or expected to do it all?

It makes me wonder at what point is it too much to ask volunteers to do. Is it reasonable to ask a volunteer to be the organization’s webmaster or to produce the annual fund-raising brochure, even if they work in that field?

Your organization technically may not have volunteers, but even paid staff are often treated as such. We ask employees to “volunteer” to take on new assignments or on-going projects without always giving consideration as to whether that is an undue burden for one person to assume.

Be clear in your expectations about whether people taking on new responsibilities are baking the cake or decorating it, and be realistic in how many cakes one person can produce. Whipping up a batch of cupcakes is one thing, but making a tiered creation takes a lot of time whether you are the baker or the decorator. You may be better off with a store-bought version.

*Thanks to Josh Brandfon

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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