Five Tips for Success with Ad Hoc Volunteers

Thanks to ASAE’s 2008 Decision to Volunteer study, we know that our members are eager to volunteer. But thanks to generational trends and research, we know that our volunteers are looking for different volunteer experiences, more of the ad hoc or micro-volunteering type.

When you’re used to working mostly with standing committees, though, it can be tough to figure out how to create good ad hoc volunteer work. The top five tips to success are:

  1. Make a specific ask. Bad: “We need some articles for upcoming association enewsletters. Contact (generic email address) if you’d like to be considered.” Good: “Mary, you’ve demonstrated expertise in (specific topic). That’s the theme of our upcoming December issue of Association News Monthly. Would you be willing to write a short piece on that topic for us? Thanks, (your name)”
  2. Provide clear instructions. Let’s assume Mary says yes. You should immediately let her know how long you want the piece to be and when it’s due. Tell her who she’ll be working with in case she has questions. Let her know if you’re after a particular editorial “tone” (more or less formal, first person/third person, case study, secondary research review, etc.). Ask her if she has a particular angle or question she wants to address, and be ready to suggest some if her answer is “no.”
  3. Provide a defined timeframe. Micro-volunteers need to know not only when things are due, but also approximately how much time it’s going to take. Before they commit, they want to know: is this 15 minutes? An afternoon? A few weeks? A few months? And don’t assume that just because Bob picks a 15 minute task this time, that’s all he’ll ever want to do. Next time, he might be up for a task force that will stretch over a few months. Or vice versa.
  4. Recognize! You probably do a pretty good job of recognizing and thanking your Board members and standing committee members. Micro-volunteers want to be recognized, too. You probably don’t need to parade them all across the stage at your annual meeting (if you’re doing a good job of engaging people, that could take FOREVER), but you need to find ways that are meaningful to them to shine a little light on them and thank them.
  5. Mission. I probably should have started here, because this is the most important tip for success. Even small jobs need to clearly relate and contribute to your mission.

Want more? Check out the recent Spark/Mariner Management whitepaper The Mission Driven Volunteer.