To Deepen Member Engagement, Redefine Volunteering

Offering volunteer opportunities can be one of the most effective ways to bring members closer to your association. But the work they do needs to benefit the volunteer as well as the organization. One way to deepen member engagement is create enough different opportunities to match your members’ volunteering preferences.

If you’re a frequent social media user, you probably follow those hashtags that pop up in your Twitter or Facebook feed. And if you’re an association executive, you probably follow #AssnChat or #MembershipHack, which can often lead you to tips for recruiting, retaining, and engaging members. Well, turns out there’s another hashtag to follow: #VolunteerLove is how some associations and other nonprofits are sharing and recognizing different types of volunteerism.

Often volunteering is one of the “stickiest bonds” that an association can have with its members, says Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president of Mariner Management and Marketing. Last week, she led an ASAE webinar [WebEx extension download required] explaining the meaning of #VolunteerLove. In essence, it’s about creating mutually beneficial relationships for associations and volunteers. Usually, that means matching the right volunteer to the right job.

“Associations need to blow up the traditional definition of volunteering and see the full potential of many different types of volunteering opportunities,” Hoffman told me in an interview. “Volunteering doesn’t have to be on a committee or board. It should be about creating many different types of experiences so more members feel engaged.”

In 2015, the ASAE Foundation, in partnership with Mariner Management and Whorton Marketing & Research, launched a study examining the challenges of engaging and managing volunteers. In the third and final phase of the project, the team compared staff and volunteer satisfaction with structures of volunteer management. A critical takeaway: Associations aren’t using the full potential of their volunteering power.

According to Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism, a report on the survey’s findings, a majority of former volunteers (53 percent) and non-volunteers (58 percent) said they wanted to be more engaged, which might mean there’s a larger pool of available volunteers inside your association. But the volunteer experiences that your organization offers may not prove valuable to individual members. To fully deploy your potential army of the willing, you need to fix that disconnect.

The Project Management Institute recently undertook that task. To better target and define volunteers, PMI broke its volunteer pool—which at any time includes about 8,000 to 10,000 members—into three categories: strategic, operations, and individual.

Strategic volunteers serve on the board of directors or support the board on a committee, while operational volunteers typically serve on a member advisory group. These are traditional volunteer roles governed by terms or bylaws.

PMI saw the greatest potential in growing individual volunteer opportunities in one of three categories:

Episodic jobs. These are routine activities that require a volunteer who can dedicate time on a recurring basis. Good examples include review panels for conference submissions or an awards program. Volunteers that fall into this category can be tapped periodically for continuous support.

Ad-hoc jobs. Volunteers in this category have a specific purpose or mission with a narrowly defined role. Hoffman says these are the “one and done” jobs, where the volunteer commitment typically runs from three to six months. Examples include volunteering to be part of a task force or pilot-test team.

Micro jobs. These are small opportunities to volunteer. A good example might be serving as a content reviewer for a white paper. Often, these volunteers can do the work remotely and at their own pace.

To make changes like these, internal staff need to come together and list the ways in which members can play more active roles as volunteers. Then, the list can be sorted into specific job categories, Hoffman says.

“It’s looking at your system and saying, where can we make it easier for volunteers to step in and take a lead role?” she says. “It will not only increase the amount of volunteering opportunities, but it will deepen membership engagement and make volunteers an incredible asset to your organization.”

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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