Microvolunteering: More Opportunities for Member Engagement

“I wish I could, but I don’t have the time.”

Are you hearing that more frequently? As life becomes more complex, members have more options for spending their time and, consequently, more demands on their time. Juggling their work, family, and social lives with association service isn’t as easy as it used to be. The traditional membership experience—volunteering for committee and board service—requires a commitment of time and energy that many are no longer able or willing to give.

“The younger generation will change the dynamic of the membership and volunteer experience,” predicts Jill Eckert McCall, director of the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education and past chair of the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. “We want to engage and serve in ways that are very different than generations before us. We don’t just give lip service to work-life balance; we actually go out and get it.”

Bar associations have the opportunity to provide an alternative volunteer path for those of all ages who want to get involved, give back, and have a meaningful membership experience, but on their own terms.

Read the rest of my article about microvolunteering at the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader magazine website.

association volunteering ad hoc microvolunteering episodic
Photo by Tim Pierce (Flickr)

The New Volunteer Manifesto Series – Part 3: Keeping Volunteers

As part of my New Insights from a New CAE weekly column on SmartBlog Insights, I’m delving deeper into my New Volunteer Manifesto that I published here. In Part 3 published last Thursday, I looked at Keeping Volunteers.


The New Volunteer Manifesto: Keeping Volunteers

Deirdre Reid, CAE is an association consultant, speaker and trainer focusing on member engagement and social media at Deirdre Reid LLC and Leadership Outfitters. Connect with her @DeirdreReid.

I recently published a call to action for associations, a New Volunteer Manifesto. Last week I explored recruiting volunteers. Now I’d like to propose some ideas for keeping volunteers.

Always remember that volunteering is a benefit of membership. Talk to any involved member and you’ll soon see how true this is. Make it easy for your members to find ways to get involved. Break down any perceived barriers, particularly the lack of information about volunteer and leadership opportunities and committee meetings.

Make the connection publicly (and frequently) between what volunteers do and the success of your association. Volunteers want to help your association achieve its goals and know that their efforts make a difference.

Make it part of your culture that projects and committee work are broken down into smaller tasks that volunteers can take on. Tell your chairs to look outside your committee members for help. Share the benefit of volunteering.

Chairs must learn to share the benefits of leadership — delegate delegate delegate. Train others to do your job. Make sure everyone can benefit from volunteering.

Make meetings matter. Use a consent agenda. Start and end on time. Don’t ever meet because you are supposed to; meet because you have lots to accomplish face-to-face that can’t be accomplished effectively in any other way.

Build in time during meetings for strategic thinking and discussion. Take advantage of their brains – see what they come up with. Encourage their investment in the association’s mission.

Aim to be the highlight of someone’s day — make meetings enjoyable. Give members the opportunity to not only get work done, but to do it in a way that makes them want to come back for the next meeting. Consider building some “getting to know you” time into meeting agendas. Members get involved to develop relationships, make that easier for them.

Encourage committees to explore new ways of meeting and working. Switch up a meeting location from the association conference room to perhaps a café. Brainstorm other location ideas. Consider short conference calls or, for a more personal touch, online video chat (check out tinychat.com) if scheduling or travel is difficult.

Teach members to use online collaboration tools like wikis or LinkedIn’s Huddle application to get input on projects and task assignments. Tools like these work well for sharing the status of projects, posting to-do lists and assignments, and allowing volunteers to edit and contribute their input.

Personally thank every volunteer who helps in even the tiniest way. They are not paid to do this; they pay to do this. Recognize their contribution and constantly be grateful.

Be a transformational organization. Everyone wants the opportunity to give, learn and grow – to transform into a better version of themselves. Volunteering at your association can be a way to do that, and for many of them, it may be their only way. Remember how important it is to provide those opportunities — the benefits of volunteering.

What do you think about these ideas? Have you tried any?


Today my fourth post in the series, Creating a Learning Culture, was published on SmartBlog Insights.

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The New Volunteer Manifesto Series – Part 2: Finding Volunteers

As part of my New Insights from a New CAE weekly column on SmartBlog Insights, I’m delving deeper into my New Volunteer Manifesto that I published here. In Part 2 published last Thursday, I looked at Finding Volunteers.


The New Volunteer Manifesto: Finding Volunteers

Deirdre Reid, CAE is an association consultant, speaker and trainer focusing on member engagement and social media at Deirdre Reid LLC and Leadership Outfitters. Connect with her @DeirdreReid.

I recently published a call to action for associations, a New Volunteer Manifesto. Last week I explored the big picture. Now I’d like to propose some ideas for volunteer recruitment.

Survey all your members at least once a year to find out their professional development needs, leadership experience, interests, talents and number of hours they can volunteer per month (or quarter) so you can match them to the best volunteer opportunities for them. Keep this inventory readily available. Plan on getting updates because members’ needs and interests will change. Ideally, volunteers will call or visit members to get this information (a retention “touch”), but at least include the survey in welcome letters, renewal invoices and mailings. Follow up by phone with non-responders.

Committee involvement may be too demanding for personal schedules. Encourage ad hoc or episodic volunteering — an hour or so here and there. You need a variety of options that are still meaningful and do not require long-term commitments. Spend some time creating a list of these opportunities.

Publicize all volunteer opportunities on your website, particularly those requiring a minimal time commitment. Communicate in new ways: feature a few at meetings in an automated PowerPoint presentation; post on event table tents; announce ad-hoc opportunities via opt-in mobile texting; feature a few in each e-newsletter and on your home page, Facebook page, LinkedIn group or Twitter stream.

Keep in touch with volunteers who may step out of their roles temporarily due to other commitments. Let them know they are missed and will be welcomed back in any capacity.

Your leaders and staff must be able to answer the question, “what’s in it for me?” Don’t so much sell volunteering, as listen to what members need (that’s where the inventory comes in handy) and provide them solutions (volunteer opportunities) to help them grow, learn, meet others, etc.

Consider this:

“The primary difference between volunteers and non-volunteers, when measuring what they do with their time, is the amount of television they watch. People who do not volunteer watch hundreds of hours of additional TV a year compared to people who do volunteer. It’s not that people don’t have enough time to volunteer. People do not volunteer because nonprofits do not provide them with volunteer opportunities that interest them enough to pull them away from their television sets.” (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2009, The New Volunteer Workforce)

Are your volunteer opportunities meaningful and valuable enough to pull your members away from Jack Bauer?

Make it easy for those who are looking into involvement. Publicize committee meeting times, locations and agendas on your website. Publicly encourage members to attend a meeting if they’re interested. Take the mystery out of it.

The personal ask is the most effective way to recruit a volunteer, not a passive call for volunteers. When a member is asked to help, be ready with a few options, so they can choose the one that’s best for them.

Cultivate evangelical leaders and volunteers, those with social capital, who will personally ask others to get involved, and who can testify about the benefits of their volunteer service.

What do you think about these ideas? Have you tried any of them?


Yesterday my post on Keeping Volunteers was published. Check out SmartBlog Insights!

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The New Volunteer Manifesto Series – Part 1: The Big Picture

As part of my New Insights from a New CAE weekly column on SmartBlog Insights, I’m delving deeper into my New Volunteer Manifesto that I published here. In Part 1 published last week, I looked at The Big Picture.


The New Volunteer Manifesto: The Big Picture

Deirdre Reid, CAE is an association consultant, speaker and trainer focusing on member engagement and social media at Deirdre Reid LLC and Leadership Outfitters. Connect with her @DeirdreReid.

I recently published a call to action for associations, a New Volunteer Manifesto. Now with your input, I’d like to dig a little deeper into that. First, here are my ideas on the big picture.

View all members as strategic assets whose talents can be shared with the association. Focus on developing ways for them to contribute their talents.

Invest in the infrastructure necessary to effectively recruit, develop, place, recognize and retain volunteer talent. You might have to admit that your current systems aren’t working as well as you’d like. What percentage of your membership is volunteering now? Your association is a community of talents — more work is accomplished with more hands on deck and more members invested in the goals of the association.

Slay your sacred cows! Can we get that on a t-shirt? Get rid of committees, programs or pet projects that aren’t moving your association toward achieving its goals. Establish sunset reviews every two or three years.

Beware the leadership bubble! Put that on a t-shirt too. Leadership can develop an insular perspective and won’t always see what members really need and value. Their view could be colored by their association service, their age or career stage. Make sure you have multiple perspectives participating in decisions that affect your membership and the future of your association.

Find new jobs for your deadwood leaders. If they’re not open to innovation and new perspectives, ease them out. Their fear of regret (for not taking a risk) should outweigh their fear of failure. If anyone says, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” be very scared. Or, “if it’s not broken, why fix it.” Is mediocrity good enough for them? Will they even know if something is broken? If a leader isn’t concerned with the future needs of the association, or isn’t interested in growing as a leader, bid them adieu. This isn’t about a title; this is about leadership and vision.

Align committee work with association goals. Are your committees charged with goals to achieve? Are they accountable? Do they have the autonomy to choose how best to achieve those goals, or are their strategies and tactics imposed from above? Do they report back on progress made? Your committees must do meaningful work in meaningful ways to avoid stagnation.

Make all your leaders accessible to each other. Is there regular communication amongst your leadership – board members, committee chairs, and other formal and informal group leaders? Are they really a team, all of them? Are they in a position to help each other? Learn together?

Choose the right chairs. Make sure the members who are leading your association, not only the board, but also committee chairs, have the right motivations to be there. They’re not in it for the ego or title. They want to help the association achieve its goals and bring along others to help them do it. They’re enthusiastic about sharing the benefits of leading and volunteering. They have social capital — they can recruit others to get involved. They’re forward-thinking and receptive to new ideas and perspectives.

Appoint a Community officer as part of your leadership team, perhaps your incoming president, whose main responsibility is to develop and retain a huge corps of volunteers. Just as you need to focus on your budget and reserve to ensure the financial health of your association, so too do you need to focus on your volunteer corps and reserves.

What do you think about these ideas? Have you tried any of them?


Thursday in Part 2 I’ll discuss Finding Volunteers. Stay tuned to SmartBlog Insights!

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Agenda Abuse

Reading the paper this past week has reminded me of why it’s so important to train board directors and committee members on good meeting practices.

In Wake County (NC) a new majority was recently elected to the Board of Education. These new members were elected by a tiny percentage of county voters with a mandate to make some serious changes to existing policy – ending the mandatory year-round school calendar and eliminating busing kids to schools (originally instituted to achieve economic diversity). Emotions ran high during the election and especially after when these new faces won the seats of long-sitting board members.

My beef here isn’t with this new majority’s policy positions but rather how they have handled their board meetings, and I’m not alone. The News & Observer editors expressed exactly how many feel.

Taking advantage of their voting power, at the start of the first two meetings they added items and resolutions to the agendas without advance notice to their fellow board members or the public. These manipulative actions didn’t allow any time for public consideration or discussion of their proposed policy changes. They had the votes to ram their policies through but weren’t honest or courageous enough to allow discussion of the issues.

As I read the editorial and expressed out loud my disgust at how poorly the meetings were run, I was reminded about a recent County Commissioners meeting where a contentious issue was resolved by waiting until one of the more elderly commissioners had to use the restroom. Without her vote, the chair could get the motion passed while she was out of the room, so he did.

Is there no training for incoming board members on proper governance and meeting practices? On ethics befitting public servants? Where is staff when this is going on? I can’t imagine any chief staff executive of an association allowing such manipulation of an agenda. Any executive with a spine is going to make it very clear how horribly wrong and ill-advised that is for the long-term. Those items can be put on a subsequent meeting agenda, giving interested parties notice and opportunity to weigh in.

These antics have resulted in policy changes that affect every school-age child and their parents in Wake County – some will agree, some won’t. However, many on all sides are aghast at how these policies were changed. Another result is already clear – a loss of trust and confidence in these new members and their judgment and ethics. It will also be much more difficult for these two sides to come to consensus on future challenging issues. Alas, I guess that’s politics.

This disturbing story reminds me of how critical it is to train our board and committee members on governance and meeting practices that encourage transparency and thoughtful deliberation. Ideally all our leaders would come to the table with good ethics and judgment, and we wouldn’t have to worry about such things. But we can’t take that chance. We need to train our leaders in governing well. They are stewards of the organization and our job is to help them fulfill that role in the best manner possible.

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