Today’s Volunteer Is Tomorrow’s Professional

Networks run on volunteers more than professionals. The work of the professionals is to listen to the network and help it amplify its impact.

Today’s volunteer is tomorrow’s professional, though. Yesterday I heard the story of an urban farmer and educator–a professional–who’s running a big downtown operation and who came to that profession as a volunteer. At least twice in his journey to this role, volunteer roles turned into jobs. The most valuable things he’s learned for this work he learned while not getting paid.

The ranks of a network’s volunteers contain former professionals too, and not just aspiring ones. Sometimes getting paid for something you love ruins it, so you go back to doing it for free.

Networks benefit from talented and dedicated professionals who can expend the bulk of their thinking and working on making the network better at what it wants to be, which involves helping it get clear about its aims and values just as much as its tactics. The people in the network who aren’t paid to make it work, though, are where the lion’s share of the network’s value is made. For sure.

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