Impact of Volunteers on the Mission

Mariner Management president Peggy Hoffman recently sat down with Carol Hamilton on her podcast Mission: Impact to talk about the heart and soul of associations: the volunteer. Peggy’s conversation with Carol delved into how the digital age is changing the focus of chapters and thow we can leverage these changes by rethinking how we cultivate and develop our volunteers leading them to be successful leaders within our associations.

Listen to the full podcast. And read below for a snapshot of several important points from the conversation.

The Changing Chapter: The blurring of geographic boundaries is changing the way we view the chapters’ roles in the association’s overall strategy. Traditionally, chapters have evolved around geographic lines where members of a larger organization convene at the local level for events, networking, professional development and more. With the rise of readily available online education and other learning opportunities, those lines are being crossed as members find they can gain access to resources on a larger scale, and from the comfort of their home or office. This invites more competition which can either be the catalyst to kill a chapter or to make it thrive.

The good news: time and again – as 2020 demonstrated – chapters have shown they have the ability to pivot more readily than national proving that chapter volunteers remain the key workforce for the association. We saw increased focus on responding to local issues, student outreach, and connecting with new professionals. So, how we are currently cultivating and training our volunteers needs to evolve as well.

Cultivating a successful volunteer pool: Two main challenges to recruiting and retaining volunteers have always been 1) the readiness of volunteers to be successful in their positions (i.e., lack of relevant training) and 2) the ability to get volunteers to accept training as part of their journey. One underlying issue, which was noted in the Mutually Beneficial Volunteering study, is that members often say no to volunteering because they don’t see a valuable outcome to their volunteerism, especially in terms of career development. And even when they are willing to volunteer, they aren’t generally open to devoting time to that training.

To take on this problem, Peggy joined forces with Kristine Metter, MS, CAE, president of Crystal Lake Partners to look for an answer. Aided by input from a group of CRPs, the team looked at volunteer readiness and soon realized that the missing piece was tying relevant training to volunteer motivation. The results were a training model based on learning journeys that paints a clearer picture of those outcomes along with examples of specific pathways based on the volunteer’s experiences and aspirations. The bonus is, as Peggy states in the podcast, that “it professionalizes the volunteering in associations and nonprofits. And by professionalizing it, it boosts the motivation to get the learning and the education that you need to be successful in the job.”

Which brings us back to the impact of volunteers on the mission. If the past year and half has proven anything, it’s that we need strong chapter leadership that can readily pivot when the need arises more than ever. But cultivating that leadership remains a challenge. Peggy believes that if we shift our training by tying it to volunteer motivations, we can help our chapters build a stronger volunteer pool leading to more innovation and success, which in turn will have a positive impact on the association’s overall mission.

Be sure to listen into the full conversation for more on the changing dynamics of chapters and how the volunteer learning journey concept came into being.

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Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash