Shaking up your volunteer strategy

The 2024 Edition of Associations Evolve: 2024 & Beyond Journal is out and once again, Peggy Hoffman is one of 50 association thought leaders to share their ideas and wisdom on all things associations. Check out Peggy’s article below and be sure to download the full journal today.

by Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE

The ASAE Research Foundation’s latest study on volunteer models offers a roadmap for associations intent on maximizing the volunteer experience – for the benefit of the member and the mission. And it can’t come soon enough. The handwriting has been on the wall – associations have consistently failed to fully resource their volunteer systems.  2024 needs to be a turning point. We have in the past 3 years innovated our education and digital strategies, our decision-making models and our workplaces. To a certain degree, we innovated our member engagement strategy as well – and yet left the volunteer strategy to age another year.

A new volunteer management model for 2024 looks like this.


A new volunteer model has :

  1. A clearly defined purpose for the use of volunteers (what is their role vs staff) that fully aligns with the capacity of the volunteer pool and the association to support their efforts.
  2. A clearly articulated definition of effective volunteering which is supported through a formal assessment process which enables the association to measure effectiveness of the work, the groups, and the individuals.

A new volunteer management model has a well-defined structure which grounds an association’s volunteer management in a clearly defined purpose for volunteers, job design based on that purpose and organizational capacity, a formal, objective assessment process, and well-trained staff.

A new volunteer management model has adopted a framework based on the research’s characteristics of excellence which support and sustain mutually beneficial volunteer involvement in the mission and work of the association. These characteristics are those seen in associations that generally rate their volunteers as effective and have robust volunteer satisfaction.

*Characteristics of Excellence for an Association Volunteer Model

  • Organization culture and commitment – Creating a culture of volunteerism within the organization – among both member and staff – that embraces volunteerism while also providing necessary resources to meet the needs of organization, the staff and the member volunteers and to ensure the association is balancing appropriate legal and operational authority between volunteers and staff.
  • Clarity of purpose and definition of high performing – Creating the organization’s purpose statement for engaging volunteers which clearly articulates the impact of a successful volunteer strategy.
  • Holistic and transparent volunteer system infrastructure – Embracing a holistic and transparent volunteer resources management system that addresses the six key elements of job design, recruitment/selection, orientation/training, management, assessment and reward/recognition, and which is aligned with the organization’s culture and systems.
  • Commitment to continuous improvement – Embedding into the volunteer system regular and ongoing assessment and modernization practices. This should consist of multiple approaches including a (1) system-wide assessment, (2) individual group/program assessments, (3) assessment of individual volunteer learning, satisfaction, readiness and contribution, (4) stress tests for DE&I, time to decision, and strategic focus, and (5) updating volunteer systems based on learnings of assessment. The intent is to identify and replicate successes, fill performance gaps and collect relevant benchmarking data to support continuous improvement.
  • Professional development – Committing to ongoing learning for staff and volunteers about the profession/trade, non-profit/association sector, relevant societal and social impact trends, diversity, equity & inclusion.
  • Staff readiness – Investing in on-going training, development and mentoring of staff to support and be partners with the association’s volunteers.
  • Information/Knowledge transfer – Enabling the transfer of necessary information, history, trends, and experiences as volunteers and staff change.
  • Anticipatory and responsive – Anticipating changes in the profession, association and society within the context of volunteer management and adapting systems and learning in response.
  • Resource commitment – Investing in the volunteer strategy to continually evolve and innovate the systems including positively impacting how volunteers are able to complete their role.
  • Community focus – Committing to building and nurturing the community engaged in the work of the organization; this is about strengthening the personal and professional bonds across the community.
  • Strong identification and connection to profession/trade – Tying the volunteering roles to impacting the profession, trade or sector in a meaningful

A new volunteer management model has made an investment in staff training and support for those engaged with volunteers. The readiness of staff has a significant impact on the effectiveness of volunteers. And yet for many associations, serving as a staff liaison is too often included in “other duties”.


  • Associations not only rely on volunteers, but volunteerism is also what makes an association what it is. Volunteers represent on average 20-25% of the labor force hours in a typical association. We can’t move our mission or meet member needs without them. It is high time we invested in this core element of our organizations.
  • Members participating in the ASAE Foundation study report they will continue to volunteer. The nuance to that “prediction” is it will only come true if we honor volunteer’s time. The study showed that volunteers continued to show up when they were in an appropriate role which used their time effectively and had a meaningful impact on their profession, industry or community.
  • The success of your volunteer strategy has huge impacts on two other areas: living your association’s DEIA commitment and supporting chapters and components. Associations will need to shift their recruitment and selection process to engage a diverse pool of members. Chapters and components must get new volunteer models to succeed. Continuing the same governance model means components will continue to struggle with finding and keeping volunteers.

The ASAE Research Foundation study on A Holistic Approach to Association Volunteer Management offers a process model and other tools for consideration.

Answer the call to innovate your volunteer strategy.

*Article originally published in Associations Evolve: 2024 & Beyond Journal