Building pathways to leadership

*Part 3 of a 3-part series on creating a volunteer learning journey.

In our first post, we introduced a way to shift your volunteer training to one that focuses on the person not the position. Our second post talked about how to build a volunteer matrix based on the 5 basic learning and development levels (new/emerging volunteer, learning volunteer, new volunteer leader, experienced volunteer leader and strategic volunteer leader).

In this post, we’ll give you an overview of your next steps towards revamping your program.  But first, we need to differentiate between training (transactional) and development (leadership). Both are valuable and necessary but understanding the difference will help you appreciate what your volunteers need to be successful as they move through the pathway. Here are the basic definitions along with a chart recommending specific learning topics.

Training = transactional: focused on what one needs to know to do the current job, i.e., training on how association works including governance, rules and responsibilities, tasks/roles specifications.

Developmental = leadership cultivation: focused on developing those skills (hard and soft) one needs to be a successful leader in any role.

Investing in your volunteers as lifelong learners adds value to both your organization and your volunteers. But remember that volunteers come to your association with different experiences and different motivations, and even these characteristics can change while they move through the pathway. To be sure you set them on the right path – and keep them there – we need to look at motivations once again and see how we can apply these to training. Here are a few of the most common volunteer motivations:

  • I want to become more involved with the association.
  • I want to deepen my understanding of the profession or trade.
  • I want to improve my professional soft skills.
  • I want to be a leader.
  • I am looking to gather business intelligence.
  • I am looking to gain new business.
  • I would like to give back to the association or profession/trade.
  • I want to expand my personal/professional network.
  • I am seeking to build my personal brand


Taking these into consideration helps us understand who the volunteer is and guides our approach to training and development.

Let’s take a look at one example: A volunteer comes to you with the desire to build new skills to get promoted or land a new job. The basic training module would include fundamentals of meeting management such as building an agenda and running effective meetings. Leadership training (developmental) would go further to include skills such as negotiation and delegation skills that are often necessary for leading teams.

So how do we put this all together? This is where your volunteer matrix comes into play.

Using what you know about the volunteer’s motivation and where they sit along the volunteer matrix, you can then connect to them to the right training and development. Below are just two scenarios that demonstrate the process.

*In scenario 01 is an Emerging volunteer who has worked on a few ad hoc tasks but has limited knowledge and skills in the four areas.

*In scenario 02 is Learning volunteer who has been in an organized role within organization, working on a deliverable or on a team, and is essentially an emerging leader with a basic knowledge in the four areas.


Keep in mind when building your strategy that orientation and training should be accessible year-round (through a variety of channels in real time and asynchronously), cover the four key areas (institution knowledge, association governance, project-specific, leadership skill), and address the stages of volunteer engagement. Accessible training gives each volunteer the right amount of learning at the moment of need.

Of course, we understand that not every association has the capacity to offer an extensive training program. Some of you may have one in place while others are just getting started. Either way, before you begin creating or updating your program, consider your overall volunteer strategy and ask how much you are willing to invest in your volunteers (we hope a lot!). Assess your capacity and bandwidth i.e., what do you have in place, what do you need to do, and, most importantly, can you manage it with the resources you currently have? For the latter question, don’t overlook resources that are close to you such as information/programs that ancillary departments within your organization may already have in place. Or readily available tools such as Linkedin Learning, MindTools, Free Management Library that you can add to complete or complement your training resources. See below and the toolkit for more on determining your next steps.

Next steps:

  1. Map your pathway and scenarios: Gather a focus group of volunteers to help.
  2. Identify what volunteers need to know: Let effectives practices in chapter management, operations, and governance guide here.
  3. Plot a course: Go big or go small … importance is understanding the priorities and the resources at hand


What if we’re not ready … or want to explore this concept on a smaller scale? No worry. You can implement it in stages. For example…

  • Are you the staff person charged with preparing chapter leaders?  >> Consider how to apply the concepts to your chapter leader conference, webinar series and resource portal.
  • Are you a staff person charged with committee liaison role?  >> Consider how you can apply the concepts to an onboarding process for committee volunteers.

Just as there are many paths for volunteers, we have many paths for how to step up our game in supporting and developing our member volunteers. Check out the links below.

Wherever you decide to start – from scratch or from an existing training program – the benefits of tying volunteers’ motivations and aspirations to their learning will help the volunteer see an intrinsic value to that learning, which will in turn spur their willingness to invest in the time. For you, the investment in your volunteers will help them move from tactical and operational support to strategic leaders, resulting in more successful outcomes for both the volunteer and the association.

As always, we encourage you to download the toolkit developed by Peggy and Kristine* for more details and examples on building your program.  Also download our free tip sheet Coaching Volunteer Leaders: Tips for Creating A 12-month Strategy

And when you have some time, sit back and listen in on our June webinar where Peggy and Kristine first introduced the VLJ (you can get a quick recap of the webinar here) or read Sarah Garrity’s (Billhighway) 4-post series.

*This project was a collaboration between Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE, president of Mariner Management and Kristine Metter, MS, CAE, president of Crystal Lake Partners, along with an advisory panel of CRPs.

Additional Resources: