Someone tell associations it’s National Volunteer Week

Psst – it’s National Volunteer Week. Yep it started on Sunday, April 10. It runs all week. Not that you’d notice in the association world. But turn to the c3 world and it’s a different story. Even the White House took time to notice … as it fought the budget battle.

So what’s up with associations? Don’t we get volunteers?

Funny that’s what we were saying on the last Executive Explorations call, a series of free discussions on volunteering in associations hosted by the ASAE Executive Management Section Council. We talked more about that on our innovation peer group call. We know we rely on volunteers. We just don’t invest in volunteers. We know we struggle with poor performing volunteers and in some cases a dearth of volunteers. We just don’t invest in robust volunteer management programs.

Even my professional society focused on membership organizations hasn’t spent a pixel in recognizing this week. I haven’t (yet) received that generic email thank you for my hours (although I did just get a request to sign-up again for a volunteer project – does that count??).

Here’s the interesting rub. We are doing a lot of talking about member engagement. It seems somewhere along the road, we figured out that if you connect – really engage – a member, they are way more likely to renew. And guess what, the best forms of engagement are through volunteering. So … why the disconnect? We spend lip service on training, evaluating, and recognizing. We often don’t reward either. Volunteer management can be found scattered all over the association.

There are some associations who have a more enlightened approach. We’re beginning to see titles like “Director of Volunteer Relations” and “Director of Member and Volunteer Services.” Associations like PMI are looking at new training and development models.

I think at the heart of problem is this sense – at the top, yes I mean the board – that it’s a responsibility for members to serve. They are supposed to want to “give back” and to work for their profession. That’s a different mindset from the c3 crowd. They see their volunteers are partners and resources. They see them as a valuable commodity and even a strategic resource. They invest in robust volunteer management programs. They brand their programs. They celebrate. They even embed their volunteering into the community – witness high school students’ requirement for service hours and volunteering as a critical component in a political resume.

So here’s my challenge to all of us: let’s put volunteer management and development as a strategic goal. Let’s apply resources to developing robust programs. Let’s be “volunteer organizations”.

One easy step is to “like” our Facebook Association Volunteers! page and add a note about how great your volunteers are.

In case you want to explore a little more about National Volunteer Week:natl volunteer week 2011 logo