Building volunteer bench strength requires a wide roster of members. When you’re assembling a qualified team, be on the lookout for these four types of volunteers, and be ready to provide the support they need.
The World Series kicked off last night in Los Angeles, and this time of year always has me thinking about one thing—bench strength.
To win it all in baseball, you need a roster of players who can take you through the bottom of the ninth, maybe into extra innings, and all the way to Game 7. That also applies to associations that need qualified support from volunteers.
And please excuse all the baseball metaphors, but your membership team is like the dugout manager, whose chief job is to tap talent from the bench or bullpen at exactly the right time.
“Most associations get stuck in the paradigm that they have to teach and use volunteers for everything,” says Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president of Mariner Management and Marketing. “Instead, I want my volunteer leaders to know how to knock it out of the park by using the right information and tapping in at the right time.”
Two weeks ago, Hoffman led a session at the Association Component Exchange in Arlington, Virginia, where membership and chapter relations professionals came together to discuss strategies that can engage and drive volunteer leaders.
One of the biggest lessons learned: In managing a team of volunteers, associations need to carefully consider members’ varying levels of experience, knowledge, and commitment. And like any good baseball manager, membership pros should be thinking strategically about developing a deep and varied roster of volunteer positions.
Here are four types of volunteers you probably already have on your team, with advice from Hoffman on how to support them.
The Emerging Volunteer
Your volunteer newbies may be reluctant—and not yet qualified—to take on a big leadership role or project. This is where smaller, ad hoc jobs can come in handy as a way for members to dip their toe and test the waters.
And because emerging volunteers will likely have only limited experience with the organization, it often helps to pair them with more experienced members who can answer questions and lead by example.
“New volunteer leaders have to be treated as the mentee,” Hoffman says. “Think about the emerging volunteer relationship from a different lens than other volunteers. You have to hold them by the hand instead of challenging or pushing them.”
The Learning Volunteer
Learning volunteers have a few assignments under their belt and are ready to know more about the association, its mission, and opportunities for leadership development and growth. They have baseline knowledge but often need additional training.
Typically, associations throw the volunteer handbook at these members to bring them up to speed on organizational rules, guidelines, and best practices, Hoffman says. But it’s better to “ban the book all together” and create a digital portal that provides volunteers with quick and easy access to information.
A portal “allows you to serve that moment of need for your members,” Hoffman says. “It gives them immediate access to the institutional knowledge, and it allows them to ask questions remotely.”
The Developing Volunteer
If learning volunteers need access to frequently asked questions and answers, then developing volunteers need access to project-specific support.
These are members who have established a volunteer track record and may be serving on a committee or council for the first time. You should be providing them with direct support—whether that’s through a staff liaison or a project guide that can help them maximize their effectiveness.
“It’s understanding that if you have a project-specific volunteer, you don’t need to give them everything, just the essentials,” Hoffman says. “Ask your people to be available to support volunteers and take as much off their plate as possible.”
The Experienced Volunteer
The experienced volunteer, which Hoffman also calls the strategic volunteer, is someone who knows your association deeply, has a volunteer track record, and can lend a strategic focus to their working, whether that’s in a formal role, like a committee or chair position, or in an informal capacity, such as a volunteer liaison or consultant.
These types of volunteers may stand to contribute the most to your organization’s strategic goals, but they should also stand to benefit from the development of leadership skills that come from leading.
In a recent blog post, Hoffman tells the tale of a volunteer who served as a communications chair and managing editor of a chapter’s monthly e-newsletter. She expressed gratitude for the opportunity because it allowed her to manage a committee, sharpen editorial skills, and get her hands dirty coding and producing an e-newsletter, something she eventually took back to her job to use again.
For experienced volunteers with limited time to spare, Hoffman says the work must feel rewarding and valuable. It’s just one example of how volunteering can be a mutually beneficial opportunity for both the organization and individual.
“When we look at volunteers it’s about asking—when is there an opportunity to teach and when is the opportunity to augment and grow,” Hoffman said. “Give them the right tools, training, and access, then get out of the way, so they can create real opportunities.”