Nicole R. Smith
4 min readJan 18, 2023


Woman dressed in yellow on yellow background pursing her lips


The concept of managing volunteers is easy, the execution can be difficult. This profession challenges you to be the best person you can be and take the high road in every decision, which can be hard. Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing. You see, one of the keys to being a phenomenal volunteer leader, that many people overlook (evidenced by phrases like “anyone can do it”) comes down to one simple thing: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

People are right you know, “anyone can do it.” However, not everyone will, nor can everyone can do it successfully. Being a leader of volunteers requires huge amounts of humility; and quite frankly, most people would rather lead with their ego than with their honor.

RESPECT is defined as “to hold in esteem or honor” or “show regard or consideration for.” The problem is when people hear the word “volunteer,” becaue they perceive volunteers to have no value (such as a volunteer can’t give them a promotion at work) all of that seems to fly out the window.

Oh it doesn’t? Why then, when people have a meeting with a volunteer, they don’t make an effort to show up on time themselves. Heaven forbid, however, a volunteer shows up late, that same person is ready to have a “difficult conversation” with them about the importance of punctuality. Or, why then, don’t they provide a volunteer with proper instructions, adequate information and/or tools to help support them in their role/project and still expect them to be successful; and when they aren’t, the word on the street is they are incapable? Why is it when a volunteer makes an inquiry, the e-mail or phone call goes ignored for weeks. Or even better yet, they speak harshly to a volunteer like they are a nuisance, or waste of their time (in a way that one would never dream of speaking to a colleague or supervisor) and when a volunteer responds with an attitude, or walks away from the organization or stops showing up for assignments, they are labeled as “difficult” or “unreliable.”

Then, when you ask people about managing volunteers, the complaint is “they are dubious or capricious.”

Chew on this. If a colleague treated an employee in any of the ways mentioned above, any of the employee’s reactions would be justified. They would have a right to get an attitude or walk away because they were disrespected. However, if a volunteer responds in the exact same way, they are awarded with a bad reputation. Seems a bit unfair right?

Well my friends, you have to GIVE respect in order to GET it….and in all areas of volunteer engagement for that matter. The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. volunteer model can help remind you to be respectful and thoughtful in all areas of volunteer leadership guarantees success for anyone who wants to lead volunteers well. We all know what R.E.S.P.E.C.T. means to Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, but in the wonderful world of volunteerism it means:

R — Relationship, Recruitment, Retention, Recognition

E- Engagement

S — Strategize

P- Proritize

E. Educate

C. Communication

T. Training

Showing respect around each of these categories will demonstrate that you are not taking for granted someone’s time and efforts…which will in turn make someone want to return the same level of respect.

So I ask you, the next time you are interacting with a difficult, dubious and/or capricious volunteer, are you showing them the respect they deserve?

Nicole R. Smith posing in front of Make-A-Wish Banner

Nicole (@nicolersmithnet) is a Panamanian-American, workforce development specialist, dancer, motivational speaker and published author of Game On! Relentlessly Pursue Your Dreams and the 101 Affirmations Journal Series. She attended Oral Roberts University on a Division I full-ride track scholarship. After graduating, she founded Step It Up! Inc., a non-profit dance organization. Her experience in sports and entertainment, radio, TV, the performing arts and social services has spanned nearly 20 years covering the Chicago, Houston, Miami and Orlando markets. She has danced and cheered for four Professional and Semi-Professional sports teams, has prepared more than 800 interns to enter the workforce and has inspired crowds upwards of 2000. She received the Emerging Leaders ALIVE Impact Award for Volunteer Administrators, was listed as one of WLRN’s “Local Women Who Inspire You” , was selected as one of Legacy Miami’s MOST PROMINENT AND INFLUENTIAL BLACK WOMEN IN BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY OF 2019 and awarded the Amplifying Voices awards from United Latinas. She sits on the Board of the Association of Leaders In Volunteer Management and Ageless Chic Magazine.



Nicole R. Smith

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, single mom, workforce development specialist, published author, dancer, and motivational speaker. Her experience spans 20 yrs.