However many associations are struggling to fill committee positions and engage younger members. Without taking specific action to address these problems, the situation will only get worse.
In this article I will look at the types of assignments that will appeal to members, what they want to achieve from volunteer work, the best way to promote volunteer vacancies, how to prepare a supportive environment and a few of the pitfalls to watch out for.
An important starting point is to acknowledge that everyone today is short of time. This makes the gift of a member’s time more valuable than it has ever been before. Members are more choosy how they spend their time and will want to know the time commitment involved and what is in it for them.
Can you break up volunteer activity into smaller tasks, advertise an end date or let them know exactly how many hours are involved? Open ended assignments will not be popular. Advertise fixed term committee positions, but provide continuity by giving the outgoing chair a mentoring role to the incoming members.
Event based volunteering, where the task is done-in-a-day or session, is becoming increasingly popular. Can you offer event assignments, where members can mix with friends and colleagues, have some fun and achieve another goal at the same time? A good example is the number of people signing up for charity runs. Volunteers get fit, raise money and have a great social experience all at the same time!
Can you offer more flexibility? Virtual volunteering, where members work at home via their PC and the web, is also becoming popular. This particularly appeals to younger members who want to give, but don’t want to attend meetings. You will find a growing bank of resources for managers who support virtual volunteers.
Assignments will be more attractive if you highlight the benefits they can expect and link it to a motivation they have.
They may be looking:
Younger members are likely to seek educational opportunities and work experience which they can include on their CV. Could you offer younger members the option to have a letter that they can use to help their employability at the end of the task? Older volunteers tend to favour life long learning opportunities or a chance to try something new.
If the motivation is because they want to help others or something back give, they will find it appealing to know about who they will helping. Tell them how their involvement will contribute to meaningful outcomes.
Moving on to the subject of how to advertise your volunteer vacancies, I would not recommend a mass marketing approach. Broad campaigns, that appeal to no one in particular, do not work. The experienced volunteer recruiter, starts by asking where they can find the best person for each role. They ask their network of existing and past volunteers, so the search is not limited to the people they know. They focus, so only qualified members come forward. If they need an army of volunteers, they break the campaign down into a series of mini campaigns, each targeting different types of volunteers in logical ways.
Consider building a database of members interested in volunteering. Ask members about their interests during the new member orientation phase or during the renewal process. Introduce a ‘one-pledge task form’
Ask members to pick one task from a list when they renew. You will find a template of a one pledge task form on my website.
For example, the ASAE ask members to indicate the type of volunteer work they are interested in, the highest level of commitment they are willing to make and experiences that might make them a good fit for this level of commitment. They also ask them if they are not successful in their first choice of volunteer work, to specify your second and third choice.
Add a field to the member record to identify and select members according to their level of interest and experience:
Allow members to self maintain this information because it will change over time.
Consider if there are situations that make members more interested in volunteering. Are there any times when members experience a need for involvement? For example, that they have been touched by an issue, promoted at work or set up a new business and want to meet others working in the field, or they are approaching retirement and keen to explore new opportunities. Train staff to be alert to comments or questions that indicate a member might be more interested in volunteering work.
Members are more likely to volunteer if you ask them directly. A personal face-to-face approach, from someone they know, who has positive experience of volunteering, works best.
Having a quality list or database of members who have expressed interest will enable you to find support for larger projects. Use phone calls, followed-up with letters and emails to support your direct approach. Make sure you tell people what to do next i.e. include a call to action.
Use your magazines, exhibitions, conferences, web site and other mass communication options to support your efforts and highlight volunteer achievements.
Some employers are encouraging and supporting staff who engage in volunteering. Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) schemes are underway in many leading companies. The business case has now been firmly established, with research showing a £14 return for every £1 a company invests. Can you offer volunteer assignments through such schemes?
Educational providers might also prove useful partners. Could they offer delegates volunteer assignments to add value to the classroom experience?
You may find working with outside partners also helps you attract new members and achieve your member recruitment targets.
How do you keep volunteers involved? The best way to keep a volunteer involved is to make sure they have a good experience.
To achieve this you need to offer interesting and meaningful work, ideally with a real and visible impact they can feel proud of, and prepare a supportive environment for the volunteer.
A supportive environment means:
Watch out for problem areas because volunteers have a very easy exit option and can depart as quick as they came. The main problem areas are poor planning, poor recruitment practices, relationship problems with paid staff and the organization not being ready for volunteers.
There are many advantages if you can successfully engage members in volunteering. They can extend your resources and sphere of influence. They can bring you extra credibility and bring a wider and more objective perspective on issues.
Finally in the years ahead a key task for association leaders, will be to remain vibrant and representative of the community, by engaging and harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of its younger members. Are you prepared for this challenge?