Volunteer-managed chapters often struggle with the question, “At what point do we need to hire outside help?” The answer depends on several factors including an honest, accurate assessment of what needs to be done. (Note, a full discussion of the latter is another blog post on the propensity of chapters to mis-define themselves simply as mini-versions of the national association and thus burden themselves with far too broad a task list.) The decision to outsource is driven by three questions that get at financial and human resources:
- What are the logical skill and experience sets of the current volunteer base?
- How much excess (or prospective) income can we bring to the table?
- To what extent will the cost of outsourcing the functions and/or programs enhance the member value and/or volunteer experience?
Too often, chapters rush to hire an administrator with general skills rather than, like most successful businesses, purchasing the specific expertise needed for the job at hand. An explanation of this process can best be presented with two real world examples.
The Chesapeake Chapter of the Risk Management Association (primarily credit officers at banks) co-sponsors 6-8 one-day training programs with the national association, produces 4-6 educational events and newsletters, and manages a fairly simple website. As you can imagine, they have great bench strength in accounting but very little experience in event planning, marketing or website management.
Keeping the accounting “in-house” is a no-brainer, but they don’t have much excess income, so they had to further parse their event and website management functions into those that could, with a little training and a reasonable amount of effort, be adequately covered by volunteers vs. those requiring a skill and experience set well beyond their typical volunteer. Examples of the former include on-site registration, recruiting speakers and developing program descriptions. The latter includes site selection, contract negotiation and web page updates. By purchasing only the type and amount of outside expertise needed to cover those functions, they can stay within their budget, continue to deliver valid benefits and offer a satisfying volunteer experience.
On the other end of the experience spectrum, the DC Chapter of the International Special Events Society brims with event planning expertise, but lacks significant depth on the financial and marketing side of the ledger. As you can imagine, this chapter is all about events, most of which are quite lavish affairs. They also produce a monthly newsletter and have a fairly robust website.
Their volunteers cover 90% of the event production process with ease and, because their events have generated a great deal of income, they can afford to outsource the entire registration process as well as all their accounting and website management. Like the Chesapeake Chapter of the Risk Management Association, this arrangement allows them to stay within their budget, continue to deliver valid benefits and offer a satisfying volunteer experience.
While these examples have been necessarily simplified (life is never this easy or clear-cut), they demonstrate the value of allocating limited resources using a highly targeted process rather than paying for a one size fits all solution that duplicates skill sets readily available in the existing volunteer pool.
P.S. There is also an intangible, but critical team-building value in volunteer elbow grease that shouldn’t be underestimated. Too much outsourcing can have an adverse effect on the overall energy and sense of community within the chapter volunteer base.