How You View Volunteers Determines How You Lead Them

How you view volunteers will determine how you lead them. In 1957 Douglas McGregor spoke at a conference about two different types of employee motivation. He hypothesized that worker motivation could be broken into two broad categories: Theory X and Theory Y. Those associated with X believe workers are generally lazy, selfish, and difficult to motivate. Those associated with Y believe workers want to work and can be self-directed if properly motivated.

When it comes to leading volunteers, how do you generally view people? Do you believe they’re lazy and aren’t interested in serving (Theory x)? Or do you believe that people naturally want to serve and want to contribute (Theory Y)? Chances are you wouldn’t define yourself as purely one or the other, but you probably do lean in one direction.

Why this matters

How do you feel about asking people to volunteer? Or, when it comes to fundraising, how do you feel asking people for money? If you are nervous about asking people to serve or give, there’s a good chance you lean towards Theory X. In your heart you believe that people don’t want to serve but only do so out of obligation or duty. You feel like you have to guilt them into serving because they probably wouldn’t want to do it on their own. You then feel bad leading them, believing you’re inconveniencing them and they’re always looking for a way out.

On the other hand, if you lean towards Theory Y, then you believe people naturally want to serve and give. You’re more comfortable asking people to serve, understanding they’re probably looking for a meaningful way to invest their time.  You’re also more comfortable leading them, believing they want to be there- even if it’s sometimes a sacrifice.

Organizations and Churches can lean towards Theory X or Theory Y.  If a church is afraid to ask people to serve in big ways, it’s probably because they lean towards Theory X. They believe people aren’t naturally motivated and they’d have to beat them over the head to get them to serve. Other organizations create a culture of serving based around Theory Y. These groups believe that people want to serve. They treat them that way and guess what? They do!

There’s something called Expectation Confirmation Theory, which states that people tend to act in ways that confirm their previously held expectations. But, this can work socially too. People can act in ways that confirm other people’s previously held expectations of them. So, if you believe that people want to serve, there’s a good chance they will.


So, next time you’re looking for volunteers or need to ask for donations, consider how you view people. Do you lean towards Theory X or Y. It might explain why you feel the way you do about asking people to serve or give. What would happen if you began to believe that people really do want to contribute, serve, and make a difference in the world? What if you truly believed you could offer them a meaningful way to make the difference they are hoping to make? You have something valuable (opportunity to give/serve) that people (potential volunteers) want. Imagine how this view change could impact the volunteer culture of your organization.

If you’ve found this post helpful, remember to share and subscribe.

You also might like: