With Careful Planned Guidelines, Volunteers Are a Boon for Business


When starting a business, many entrepreneurs lean on volunteers to help out. These volunteers can range from interns to family members, and this help often spans financial, administrative, or technical assistance.

The old cautionary warning holds true however – you have to be careful when mixing family, lovers, or volunteers with business. Without proper rules and boundaries, these relationships can complicate your business in ways that are difficult to manage. 

When you’re relying on volunteers for a little business help, here are some things to keep in mind.

Be sure to set expectations for the commitment. Don’t hire a volunteer without a planned next step or a scheduled touch base meeting. You want to understand and set expectations for your volunteers – both what you expect from them during their time helping you, and what they are expecting from the relationship. Some things that are great to communicate:

  • “After 3 months, let’s sit down and talk about how it’s working out with you doing the billing for the company.”
  • “Here is a list of activities I need you to work on.  It will be a great day for this business when this is a full-time position’s job description.”
  • “We understand this is a great networking opportunity for you and your business.
  • “We hope that with this project, you’ll gain some great skills to build your resume.”
  • And if money is involved… “The company will pay your loan back in 12 months.” 

Talk to your volunteer and let them know that the work relationship will evolve – it won’t be a forever thing (and understand that yourself). There are so many reasons for creating this expectation, both from a working standpoint as well as a relationship standpoint:

  • Your job gets too big for your volunteer. Typically, this ends up presenting itself as your company grows – it may grow beyond your volunteer’s skill set. The best example of this is bookkeeping, which can rapidly become more and more complex as you experience growth.
  • Business bleeds too much into your home life. This can become a particularly tough problem if your volunteer is a family member. Don’t let every dinner with your family member become a business meeting.
  • The position at your company is limiting your volunteer’s ability to grow. For example, you may hire your child out of college to give them a paying job, but after two years they still are not using their college degree. You need to help them know when it’s time to walk towards a new opportunity, and that’s its ok to leave your company.
  • The dynamic in your company since bringing in a volunteer has changed. Sometimes that volunteer has a close relationship with you outside of work, and that might invite accusations of favoritism or nepotism and negatively affect the company’s productivity and morale.
  • You both find it hard to give one another feedback. It’s tough to give honest feedback, but to a volunteer it’s harder! Maybe all they hear is “Thanks for working for free, but can you do it my way?”  Or what you hear is “I don’t care about the boost in my resume, with your demanding personality, I wouldn’t work here if you paid me?”

When the time comes for the position to end, that can be a pivotal point in your company’s progress. Quincy CFO can give you objective feedback about a good time to make a change and we can assist you with a transition to a new solution. Reach out at info@quincycfo.com and let us know how we can help.

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