This spring marked the annual celebration of “National Volunteer Week.” The occasion provides a good reminder about why we do what we do at McBride & Associates.
A recent article from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) cited a 2017 ASAE Foundation study showing that 25% of an average association’s total work hours are contributed by volunteers. As a result, the article made the point about the importance of how associations utilize their volunteers.
We’ve been working with our clients to help them re-tool and re-define their volunteer structures. There’s much less reliance now on standing committees or rigid definitions of volunteer slots that need to be filled, although there is still a legitimate need for certain standing committees. There’s much more emphasis on ‘micro-volunteer’ opportunities where members can help with a specific project or task in a condensed period of time without having to make long-term commitments.
One of the challenges in doing that for some of our clients is identifying small pieces of a big project that can be effectively done as individual tasks by a variety of people. The tendency is to delegate the entire project to a committee, or to one individual, and hope that they get other people get involved. But, it can take some effort just to break down big projects into smaller assignments, identify people who may have interest or ability to contribute to the work, and then coordinate the efforts of multiple people, so it’s often easier for one or two people to just do the work. The result can be burnout of a few volunteers. And, lost opportunities to engage more members and build a deeper bench of future leaders.
There are opportunities that are easy to miss for asking volunteers to help with smaller, more mundane issues. Everyday occurrences where members are asking questions, needing help, or wanting information that isn’t readily available present opportunities for asking a volunteer to engage. If a volunteer can solve a problem or gather information, chances are good that others can benefit and the member will have the satisfaction of having helped his or her association.
The ASAE article also went on to point out the value of getting feedback from volunteers, which is a too-often ignored aspect of making associations effective. Asking about members’ volunteer experiences—whether it involves serving on a board or committee or engaging as an individual contributor to a project or task—can provide good insight as to the types of volunteer experiences we’re providing, the resources we’re making available to volunteers, and the level of direction or help they’re getting.
After all, our goal should be for volunteers to feel a level of satisfaction from having contributed something of value to the organization or profession. I’ve tried throughout my career to remind the volunteer leaders that we work with that volunteer engagement should be a two-way street. Our first focus when we’re asking people to volunteer typically is to describe what we need the volunteer to do for the organization. Too often, what’s left out of the conversation is a reminder about what the volunteer can gain from the experience. It should be a win-win experience for the organization and for the member. And that’s where our work comes in to play–making the experience as productive and rewarding as possible for the volunteers.
Being grateful for willing and capable volunteers is something that should be an ongoing focus for all of us in the association community.