Walking the Walk of Deep Volunteer Engagement

There’s a one-word answer to three common complaints that plague associations.

Do these sound familiar:

  • We can’t find enough volunteers! (incessant comments from association components, e.g., chapters, SIGs)
  • We struggle to get the right volunteers in the positions! (commonly heard from association struggling with non-functioning boards and committees)
  • We need to strengthen retention and get our members more active! (often this comes along with a grow membership)

Does the answer? Micro-volunteering.

We think it’s not as familiar as it should be nor given the sufficient time and energy within associations which is why the “Walking the Walk of Deep Member Engagement” session Elizabeth Engel, Eric Lanke and I recently did at ASAE’S Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference including micro-volunteering.  We also explored a volunteer strategy that flips management upside down (in a good way) and how to learn from your own volunteering. Check out Elizabeth’s and Eric’s posts! You can grab our handouts at Spark.com and our PPT at Slideshare.  Elizabeth and I talked Mto Kufa of TMA Resources for #livefromASAE.

But back to Micro-volunteering – why is it the one-word answer?

Q 1: Finding volunteers … ASAE’s Decision To Volunteer’s (DTV) and oodles of research by Points of Light and other groups tells us by the numbers that people are still volunteering but they seek out smaller, less restrictive options. Volunteers are eschewing opportunities that require big commitments of time and long commitments of time. In addition, they want to see the benefit of volunteering up close and within a relatively short period of the time.

One additional piece of research tells us that most volunteers (think 80% or better) start volunteering with a group in a small way. They test the group.  As DTV proved, almost all volunteers start with ad-hoc roles (help out at a conference, review a paper, contribute to a story, serve as a session leader, etc.).

Microvolunteering is the door in for your members to begin volunteering.

Q2: Finding the right volunteers … an association CEO once shared their concept of committee structures back in 2000 calling committees her “farm team.” Anyone and everyone was welcome to join a committee or help out in anyway. This gave her and her board an opportunity to see how well a member played. Today, we employ this concept in several of the associations we manage and it has helped us identify emerging leaders and emerging non-leaders.

Taking this one step further, by developing a specific volunteer pathway, you can help members use the smaller roles to self-assess and gain the knowledge and experience they need to succeed in leadership. Right now, most associations are paying scant attention to micro-volunteers and therefore provide no training or development. Rethink that and micro-volunteering sets up a great farm team.

Q3: Stronger retention, greater activity (and even growth) … the latest research from ASAE captured in (my new favorite book) 10 Lessons for Cultivating Member Commitment shares an astonishing fact: one simple volunteer role shifted a member’s value perception 6 points (38% to 44% on the Net Promoter Score (NPS). A deeper commitment such as taskforce/committee or longer term volunteer role, sets the value perception at 60%.

Authors James Dalton and Monica Dignam say it this way:

“The visceral experience of involvement is what solidifies their appreciation for what an association is: peers helping peers.”

Want to increase retention? Increase engagement. Want to get people more active, give them the opportunity. Want to grow membership, involve them because they will promote you.

At the session we asked attendees how they could embrace micro-volunteering and here are few responses:

  • Use your components or chapters to pilot micro-volunteering strategy – easier to implement in a smaller group
  • At the national level, try adhoc groups like “writer’s pool” or “member panel” where you periodically send out ideas for comment
  • Launch a volunteer portal to aggregate the smaller tasks (e.g., content contributor for white paper, content reviewer, beta tester) thus enabling members to easily search interesting opportunities
  • Assemble a list of member media spokespersons that you can call on when the media calls you
  • Create a mentor program
  • Tie micro-volunteering to scholarship opportunities (scholarship to attend conference that includes helping at the meeting)
  • Incent micro-volunteers with free registration based on hours given
  • Launch a Young Professional Award that includes a shadowing a leader so they see the leadership from the inside

What can you offer?