Embracing the Unofficial Volunteer

Peter and I led an energizing discussion at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference last week and I’m still digesting the good ideas. The session was on embracing the unofficial volunteer leader. Who is this person you say? Well it’s the hell-raiser and the quiet saint. It’s the person who is doing work for the profession and maybe even the association — but unofficially. By ignoring these folks, you could miss out on some good work or inadvertently fuel a disruptive force. Here are two examples we talked about where associations embraced the unofficial leader.

The first is my unofficial networking group for association professionals in Columbia, MD. We’re called ANEX (association networking exchange) and meet roughly monthly for a brown bag lunch and learning. (Check us out on our groupsite and see our events on the ASAE calendar – join us!) We don’t charge a fee; we don’t require membership. We have been going strong for almost 9 years. We could be a disruptive force but we aren’t for two reasons.

1) I am an ASAE fan. Which means I won’t purposely undercut ASAE.

2) ASAE “embraced” us in a positive, hands-off way. They call us their Columbia Idea Swap, list the gatherings on their calendar, handle registration, give 1 CE for attendance and helped promote. They don’t make us jump through hoops to be a part of the Ideas Swaps. They don’t dictate topics or dates.

The second is from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) whose LinkedIn group started with a member. Today it has more than 18,000 members. Luckily, ASCE embraced the effort and this member is now the main admin saving them countless hours of group administration work. They’ve written him a special letter of thanks and praise that he passed along to make sure his employer keeps paying his dues. 

This could have be a disruptive force (we have all heard horror stories of members running amok in the socialnetworking space) but it didn’t because ASCE saw the potential and acted positively.

Our conversation at Great Ideas was only the beginning of the dialog and one that we hope to continue in many ways. We did capture the discussion, including the strategic questions we believe associations should be asking as they explore this topic, on Associapedia – The Unofficial Leader. Visit the entry, add to it and tell us what you think.

Have you “run into an unofficial volunteer” in your association?