Kicking & Screaming: A Journey to Volunteering

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He got his letter today:

Dear Peter: Congratulations! You have been selected to serve as a member of ASAE’s 2010-2011 Technology Section Council.

Peter has been a member of ASAE for eons (since the 80’s) but never held a traditional volunteer term. Sure he’s presented a few times at conferences and written a couple of articles. But mostly he’s just supported my volunteering efforts. I am so excited to see him step into a significant role.

Before getting the email this afternoon, Peter was leading an annual planning meeting for one of our association management clients during which he talked about how members often get sucked into volunteering. Then he came back to the office to see he was officially sucked in. But what took so long? That’s the $1 million question for all of us in volunteer management:  just how do we more effectively suck in these members?  As in Peter’s case, I believe it was that no-one in a leadership role (staff or volunteer) reached out and asked him to volunteer. When he finally chose to raise his hand, he found the process cumbersome and the form inflexible. He persisted because I nagged.

Its interesting that we have all the information from the Decision To Volunteer and personal stories like Peter’s but we still miss three key points:

(1) We need to actively ask members what they want to do and then help them identify roles within the association. If they don’t get involved within a year, we need to reach out to them to find out why. We know from studies that there are times in our lives when we can’t volunteer … so we need to stay in touch with members until the right time comes for them to be actively involved.

(2) We need to directly ask members to volunteer. Sure, we need to have the “call” and the “volunteer” button on the website but these are just supporting elements.

(3) We need to encourage and support our volunteers to bring in other members. Peter ultimately raised his hand because I nagged.  We spend money and time on Member-Get-A-Member campaigns and its time we also put effort towards Volunteer-Get-A-Volunteer campaigns. What’s the ROI? We know from studies that volunteering increases retention – so it’s a retention strategy. We also know that engaged members are our best new member recruiters – so it’s an acquisition strategy. Both are worth funding.

There’s an even better reason. An association needs new thinking, new ideas and new blood to be innovative and forward-thinking. If you reach out to the same volunteers over and over again, you miss many opportunities for harvesting that new thinking and new ideas.

Congratulations Peter and here’s to a great first year!

PS I’ll be in my second year on the Executive Management Section Council, so we’ll be very busy this year!

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.