“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)

Last night I went to the Kids Summer Stock Social Media Mixer at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

That’s a mouthful! What does it all mean?

It means I was in the Food Bank’s HUGE Raleigh warehouse full of boxes of all kinds of food — fruit, vegetables, eggs, bread, Mt Olive pickles, peanut butter, water, you name it — on towering shelves that reach up to the ceiling. Imagine Costco without all the junk food. A passionate Food Bank volunteer (thanks David!) led a group of us on a tour of this humongous building into several giant refrigerator and freezer rooms – a pleasant relief to the 90+ degree heat.

It also means I hung out with a bunch of fun and kind folks I first met on Twitter a few years ago but who have become friends whom I don’t see often enough. That’s the social media part.

However, the real reason we gathered was not to ogle giant boxes of sweet potatoes, but to support the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock program. I must admit when I first heard “summer stock” I thought of summertime theater – is that just a New England thing? But, no, this is a serious issue.

When school ends, breakfast and lunch programs end too for 270,000 kids in the Food Bank’s service area of 34 counties. Kids go hungry. Imagine being hungry all the time and the effects that would have on your mood, attitude, energy level, brain power and self-image. What a crappy way for a kid to live.

Kids Summer Stock provides the food needed to support these kids and their families during the summer. In the past three summers it’s provided more than 4 million meals.

freelance writer blogger copywriter raleigh

Last night’s mixer was not only fun but a way to get the word out to the local social media community about the Kids Summer Stock program. I’ve written before on the Socialfish blog about the Food Bank and their social media outreach. I like to call their database and website manager, Jen Newmeyer, their social media Champion because she uses social media, especially Twitter, to develop personal relationships within the community.

And what happens when it becomes personal? You care. Of course I’ve always cared about hunger in my community, even before I met Jen. When I lived in Sacramento CA and Arlington VA I supported food banks with time and money. There are so many other causes I’d like to give to, but with a limited charity budget, how do I decide where to give? How do you?

When it becomes personal, we care and we give. When someone I know and like is an advocate for a cause, I get interested. Think about where you’ve spent your charity time and money this past year. Some of your decisions may have been based on a deeply personal interest, for example, fighting cancer. But I bet you supported friends or family who walked or ran in charity events or you bought cookies from a Girl Scout. What was your motivation for giving? A personal relationship?

The Movember campaign inspired me to write last fall about the reasons some causes resonate with us more than others. My top reason: friends are involved.

The Food Bank understands the power of friends. They also understand the power of friends with influence and a platform. Chatty friends. Friends who write, tweet, share and socialize. Their new Social Media Ambassadors program gives a lot of their social media “friends” a way to spread the word about the Food Bank and its programs to their friends and network. This type of program appeals to today’s volunteer who prefers ad-hoc involvement: helping when they have the time in a way that fits their lifestyle and appeals to their interests.

Now, I’m going to appeal to you. Do you have $10 bucks to spare? Come on now, that’s not so much for many of us, that’s two beers at your local pub or a craft brew six-pack.

If you’re from central or eastern North Carolina, visit the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock page and contribute some money or time to the hungry kids. If you’re from elsewhere, you can find your local food bank on the Feeding America site. I bet you grew up with a full belly and refrigerator, let’s help the kids who have empty tummies and cupboards so their future can be full of happiness and success.

This week I read about a nonprofit accused of losing sight of its mission and those it serves. The story reminded me of another nonprofit I read about months ago in similar straits. These stories provide lessons to those of us who work in or with nonprofits.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor so the cause is close to my heart. Even though it’s old news, it pains me to learn that Susan G. Komen For the Cure is going after nonprofits they perceive as infringing on Komen trademarks by using “for the cure” in their names. Komen’s general counsel said, “We see it as responsible stewardship of our donor’s funds.” I knew a percentage of my donation went to overhead and administrative costs, but I didn’t think it’d go to unnecessary lawsuits.

Or, maybe they are necessary? Reporting on the Komen lawsuits, the Wall St. Journal raised the issue of donor confusion. The article gave examples of donors contributing to the wrong charity because they were confused by look-alike names. It’s a fine line between helping donors send their money to the intended charity and funding a legal campaign to protect your brand. Donors don’t care about brand infringement, they care about the work you do.

However, malicious brandjacking is a different story. Many of us in the association/nonprofit community were appalled last year when we heard that a sleazy for-profit company had brandjacked the Trees for Troops campaign. Steve Drake, whose company manages the National Christmas Tree Association, reached out to the social media community for advice and later wrote about the lessons they learned — lessons every nonprofit should heed.

nonprofits mission leadership

flickr photo by docentjoyce

My second example of a group that may have lost its way: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report downgraded MADD to a “D” rating on an A-F scale earlier this year. A press release from the American Beverage Institute (ABI), admittedly a biased onlooker, provides some ugly numbers – a decline in revenue and spending on community programs, while salaries increased. Wikipedia, sourcing the organization’s tax forms, says MADD spent more than half its income on salaries in 2008.

The ABI said, “These financial changes reveal a shift in MADD’s mission. In the words of its founder, Candy Lightner, MADD “has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned … I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.” ABI and MADD will always battle, but the numbers don’t lie, nor, I assume does Ms. Lightner. An organization loses its way, goes off course and what does it get? “D” isn’t a failure, yet, but it’s pretty darn close.

Yesterday Chris Brogan sent out an email and published a blog post announcing a new membership group, 501 Mission Place. The “501” in the subject heading caught my eye. Sure enough, it’s an online community for those who run nonprofits. 501, a term that resonates with any nonprofit professional, is the section in the Internal Revenue Code covering tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

The website says, “In a community of peers and colleagues the right connection, the right answer or the right idea is just a conversation away.” That sounds a lot like what we promise as a return on association membership dues:

  • Networking –> Connections
  • Information –> Answers
  • Education –> Ideas

The focus here is on benefits, not features, nicely done.

online communities association membership

graphic courtesy of Chris Brogan

We’re reminded about the benefits of conference attendance, a luxury that many nonprofit (and association) staff can’t fit into their tight budgets – developing relationships with your peers, stimulating conversations, problem-solving, inspiration, collaboration and community with those “who understand the very unique pressures and challenges of leading a non-profit.”

For $27 a month, members have access to online forums, seminars, articles, blogs, leadership interviews and resource libraries. That fee also buys a closed community – “a safe place for you to share what you’re doing, get peer-sourced help and feedback when you need it and to give it when you’re able.” It’s $324 a year for membership in 501 Mission Place. That’s within $100 of the dues charged by my national membership organizations, some are higher and some are lower.

Association bloggers and tweeps have been talking for years about online communities being either a threat or opportunity for associations. The issue was even the topic of conversation on the first Twitter #assnchat back in May 2009. If your association doesn’t offer ways for members to develop relationships and knowledge online, will they find it packaged in a more convenient, and perhaps more affordable, package elsewhere?

Is 501 Mission Place (#501mp) the future we’ve been talking about?

Yesterday I wrote about the Communication Shutdown campaign. I appreciate the efforts of those raising awareness and donations for the cause – autism – but I’m not convinced that shutting down communication was the best way to do it. However, it did get my attention and I learned more about autism, including the fact that its fund-raising success doesn’t match autism’s prevalence relative to other causes. Yesterday’s post was my attempt to bring more awareness to the cause. Hmm, maybe the campaign did work in an unintended way.

But I didn’t donate. Why? Because I’m cheap? I guess you could say that. I have a budget line for charity and it’s already well overdrawn. I tend to give when my heartstrings are tugged, but I realize I need to be a bit more selective so I had to say “no” to the autism cause.

Despite all that, I’m going more in the red on that budget line because there is a cause I feel compelled to give to this month. Not only compelled, but excited too: Movember.

What’s Movember?

“Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month. The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men. Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days.”

I’ll tell you why I’m a Movember supporter. My reasons may provide some insight into why some causes and campaigns resonate better than others.

movember cause reasons to give

Friends are involved.

The Movember Team RDU is led by Gregory Ng and includes Ryan Boyles, Phil Buckley, Brian McDonald, Chris Moody, Damond Nollan, Cord Silverstein, Yancy Strickland, Wayne Sutton, Josh Sweeney, Zach Ward and many more. Mr. Scrubby? Even cats are sporting a sweet ‘stache this month. I was inspired to write this post while watching a video of Wayne shaving his beard and mustache so he could start Movember with the required clean face. I thought he was going to cry! Shaving the beard looked painful enough, thank god he didn’t show the shaving of the stache, not sure I could handle that.

It’s local.

Team RDU makes it local and personal for me. I get to support fundraisers in my community. An event on November 30 to raise last-minute funds will be “a kick-ass celebration of mustaches and one more step along the path to eradicating prostate cancer.” Local businesses are involved and donating, including LoneRider Brewing, an excellent local craft brewer.

It’s fun.

“We look forward to seeing your nose skirts take shape this month.” Yeah, it’s goofy in its execution, probably because of the personalities involved here in the Triangle. I love the names of their sponsor levels: The Selleck, The Norris, The Chaplin, The Dali and The Zappa. On November 5, Gregory Ng (aka Freezerburns) is hosting Movember-thon: 24 guests, 24 frozen food reviews in 24 hours.

movember cause fundraising

I can follow along.

In the weeks leading up to Movember I’ve been the following the excitement of my team via their Facebook page and their Twitter account and hashtag (#Movember #TeamRDU). Notice I’m calling them “my” team now. Funny how that works. They’ve sucked me in.

It’s personal.

My dad is a prostate cancer survivor. It’s been well over ten years now. He caught it early, thank god, and surgery was all that was required. But that experience lingers. Two of my best girlfriends died in the last five years from other types of cancer. This cause is personal. Not a week goes by when I don’t think fondly about Andrea or Cynthia. Their memory inspires me to live my life fully and to grab the gusto when I can.

“In 2009, global participation of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas climbed to 255,755, with over one million donors raising $42 Million dollars for Movember’s global beneficiary partners.”

Wow, nice work. Join with me. Tell a Movember guy that his sweet stache is driving you so wild that you must contribute to his cause. And then do it!

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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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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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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