Compliance: Do We Really Need to Bring Our Volunteers to Volun”tears”?

In a recent post on ASAE’s listserv, a member relations manager asked “if anyone has strategies to get their chapters/Sections/SIGs to hit their deadlines.  I know that they are all volunteers, but when it comes time when budgets are due, election slates, etc, etc – we are constantly chasing after them.

We remind them by email – have deadlines posted everywhere and on each document or online document to no avail. We even get our Regional governors to remind them.  Anyone have any ideas?  Any carrots – or sticks – to get them to be more prompt?”

Here’s how I responded:

As an AMC for several chapters (we work with volunteer-run orgs every day) and consultant over the years to dozens of national and international associations struggling with the same issue, I can say with great confidence…that’s a tough issue!

Unless there is a monetary consequence (e.g. withhold dues rebate) or the lead association is truly willing to cut the cord (not likely), there’s little on the stick side available to drive compliance.  And, quite frankly, we’ve seen volunteers brought to volun”tears” way too often through abuse of the stick to force submission to rules and regulations that have little to do with serving the membership.

So let’s reframe this conversation with a different question, “What performance metrics have you established for your chapters that have anything to do with moving the mission?” And equally important, “In what ways does the association help chapters meet those metrics and reward them when they do?”

In the world of associations, we find chapter performance metrics fall into two broad categories, organizational metrics and mission metrics. Organizational metrics tend to focus on operational viability and risk abatement. Mission metrics assess the extent to which the chapter is actually getting something worthwhile done.

While organizational metrics are important, I would argue they should always be far subordinate to mission metrics. Otherwise, as is way too often the case, volunteer chapter leaders burn their limited calories dotting administrative i’s and crossing bureaucratic t’s at the expense of achieving meaningful mission-related performance goals.

High performing chapters develop strategic objectives, then establish and accomplish one or more of these goals and communicate that accomplishment to their constituents. The number or type of activities is far less important than the setting and achievement of those goals.

The essential question is “What has the chapter done to advance the mission?” How it gets it done is of far less consequence and will undoubtedly vary greatly from chapter to chapter depending on the forte and the passion of their leadership.

So I would respectfully suggest asking another question, “Does it really matter if we have a copy of every chapter’s budget (for example)?” (I can’t tell you how many associations collect budgets, stick them in a folder and forget about them.) If you honestly review all the “essential” items on your chapter checklist, I’m guessing you’ll find most don’t really matter all that much when it comes to serving the membership and moving the mission.

Ultimately, tying a meaningful carrot to mission-related goals and creating a leadership development framework that supports the achievement of those goals will generate far more meaningful compliance along with higher levels of volunteer satisfaction and overall organizational success.