The Building Blocks of a Flexible Volunteer Model

To attract new volunteers and redefine its board’s focus, the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation launched a new volunteer model in 2020. With an emphasis on connection, the model embraces all types of volunteer positions that appeal to various interests and time commitments.

Three years ago, the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation realized it needed to rethink the goals of its board of directors. At nearly 25 years old, NCCI was growing in terms of both members and staff and wanted its board to focus on strategy, finances, and governance.

“Our board directly oversaw areas like marketing, outreach, and educational programming,” said NCCI Executive Director Jake Dawes. “So, as we geared our board to take on a more strategic-level role, there was a need to bring in more volunteers at the program level.”

To help with this, the association formed a volunteer development committee to examine the volunteer experience. Through its work and research, the committee created a new volunteer framework that brings together all types of volunteer experiences.

The new model not only fills in the missing gaps for the association, but it also helps members find opportunities that meet their interests and how much time they are able to commit to volunteering.

All Levels of Participation

The model’s framework allows members to easily find volunteer roles based on their experience, interest, and availability.

New members can take on short-term commitments, such as serving as session facilitators, workshop hosts, or event timekeepers. If they want to get involved but aren’t ready to present or facilitate, there’s a volunteer category called “colleague” that focuses on learning more about the association. NCCI members can volunteer at this level by attending the annual meeting or subscribing to the association’s newsletter.

“It’s about giving back in a way that’s comfortable and doable for members,” Dawes said. “We consider a volunteer to be any member who is providing time and expertise to the association. We want to help folks see themselves within the volunteer model and get something out of their volunteer experience.”

These types of volunteer opportunities allow members to focus on one specific project. By providing a clear scope and project timeline, members can easily understand the type of commitment they are making and how it will help NCCI.

As members move through the model, they can then choose to take on roles that require longer-term commitments beyond an event or session. Those who volunteer as “collaborators” or “catalysts” serve on NCCI councils or committees for either one- or two-year terms, while champion-level volunteers are those on the NCCI’s board.

Once a more active volunteer term ends, members can easily cycle back to being colleagues or contributors based on their availability and needs.

“These opportunities allow members to use and showcase different skills than some traditional volunteer experiences,” Dawes said. “We often think of volunteer roles as event or program development and management, but there is an important space for these other roles that frequently focus on research, data analysis, and writing.”

The Right Fit

Along with the volunteer framework, NCCI also implemented a process to match members to volunteer positions based on interest and experience rather than need.

“Before the new model, members would just express interest to serve on a committee and then join,” Dawes said. “As the association has matured, we want to match skillsets and expertise to the right volunteer positions. We want to make sure it’s a good opportunity for us and our members.”

Since introducing the new model, Dawes has found that members have a deeper understanding of volunteering.

“On our most recent needs-assessment survey, we asked about member awareness and understanding of our vision, and we got some really strong responses,” he said. “I think that comes from people getting involved and really understanding what their role is and how it aligns with our organization’s mission.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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