Perspectives on leading volunteers in the not-for-profit sector

Document Type


Publication details

Nisbet, M & Wallace, M 2007, 'Perspectives on leading volunteers in the not-for-profit sector', Australian Journal on Volunteering, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 70-81.

Peer Reviewed



The leadership of volunteers offers a unique relationship in contrast to the leadership of waged workers, therefore, effective and appropriate leadership of volunteers is critical. While the literature offers a clear picture of the elements, including leadership discussion of the actual daily workplace practices of leaders of volunteers is sparse. The case studies reported here involve leaders from four not-for-profit organisations involved in human and animal welfare in an Australian metropolitan area. Each of the four leaders in this study leads a workforce made up of a large proportion of volunteers, with some waged workers. The leaders were interviewed about their backgrounds, attitudes and leadership practices in relation to volunteers. A number of the volunteers in each of the organisations were also interviewed about their perceptions of their leader’s style. Overall, these leaders display consultative leadership styles and a great deal of sensitivity to the interests and needs of volunteers. A number of relevant issues have emerged that accord with, and extend, the knowledge base. These include the attitudes of leaders and volunteers towards the education and training of volunteers, leaders’ perceptions of the importance to volunteers of the social and relational aspects of their time in the organisation and desire for input into and flexibility in their roles. Issues of retention and performance, and the potential for mentoring in the leadership and development of volunteers also emerged. Another outcome relates to some perceived negative attitudes on the part of paid employees towards volunteers in their organisations and the implications of this for the social capital and capacity building within the organisations. Important practical elements in the leadership of volunteers are outlined and areas for further research are suggested.