Mission Driven Volunteer Q&A

During our February 27 Higher Logic Learning Series webinar on The Mission Driven Volunteer, there were several questions Peggy Hoffman and I didn’t have time to answer. That’s not cool! So we answered them for this blog post.

What is the certification for volunteers at c3 organizations?

PH: It’s the Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA). Find out more here.

Can you share the MACPA volunteer grid they used to assess their program?

EE: The grid is on page 11 of the whitepaper (get your free copy at bit.ly/13Wwe1F), and I’ve reproduced it below for your convenience.

Grid the Maryland Association of CPAs used to evaluate their volunteer program






PH: It’s also in the rebuilding the volunteer spirit handouts, which can be found on the Mariner site at bit.ly/1dLyzkm.

Are either of you aware of any new research going on in this area?

EE: I’m guessing you mean “more recent than The Decision to Volunteer” (which came out in 2008)? A number of the studies cited in the whitepaper are of more recent vintage (see page 22, “Additional Resources”). Some of the best sources we found include:

PH: ASAE also conducted a subsequent study based on The Decision to Join in late 2011, and it confirmed a number of critical elements originally reported in DTJ and DTV, namely that younger generations are joining and participating, that members are pro-social, and that they generally prefer adhoc roles. Find out more in ASAE’s resulting book 10 Lessons for Cultivating Member Commitment.

As an aside, Associations Now just reported on the latest CNCS reports that indicate that volunteering is down in 2013. There isn’t clear indication of why, but also remember that this study looks at community volunteering, which is different from association volunteering. We do know that people have less time and more work responsibilities, so it makes sense that volunteering is down and will continue to be until we create accessible volunteering.

Any tips on recruiting for larger commitment volunteering, like authoring a magazine article?

PH: Part of the puzzle lies in the support for volunteers, by which I’m including both “support to get the job done” and “rewards and recognition.” To entice volunteers, make sure they know what resources and help are available, and make sure that volunteer work is celebrated. In this particular case, what support do you offer? How available is your editor? Do you offer a chat with the editor to talk through the potential article? If tracking down annotations or links or securing permissions is needed, can staff assist? How do you recognize authors? Do you have an authors’ reception at an annual meeting or other event? Do you spotlight authors on your website? Can authors reprint without charge? Make the deal sweet and shout it from the rooftops.

EE: What you need is a ladder of engagement. Just like you shouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, so you need to create and deepen your relationship with your volunteers over time. Micro-volunteering and adhoc volunteering are fantastic, low-pressure, low-commitment ways for your volunteers to test the waters. Some may decide that that’s as far as they want to do – you’ll be put in the “friend zone,” to extend our dating metaphor. But some will be eager for additional tasks. They want to keep seeing you. Your job is to create that engagement path that gradually deepens involvement on both sides, until they get to the point that they’re comfortable making a larger commitment to you, and you’re comfortable that they’ll follow through when they do.

A barrier trade associations face is the idea that we have the “right (senior) person” from the company to serve in the volunteer role. Any suggestions for encouraging staff and volunteers to be more inclusive in their thinking and open positions to more junior staff with enthusiasm, interest, and time to contribute?

PH: Sometimes the easiest way to change staff thinking is by immersing them in the new model. So, try getting a few of these junior staffers involved and then show your staff the results. The other strategy is to have the senior staff recommend their junior staff as volunteers.

EE: That’s a tough question, because what you’re really talking about is culture change. I urge you to review the National Fluid Power Association case study on pages 13-15 of the whitepaper. Part of their major charge in changing up their volunteer structure was driven by exactly this: the need to engage people at their member companies beyond the C-suite and to help everyone involved get comfortable with that fact.

We get plenty of people raising their hands to volunteer, but few actually fulfill their commitments. Do you have any advice?

EE: Have you talked to the people who “flake out” to ask what happened? You’re likely to discover a variety of reasons for not fulfilling volunteer commitments. Some are out of your control (the potential volunteer changed jobs or got really busy at her current job, had a baby, had to care for an ill relative, etc.). But some are in your control, and are often related to not properly preparing your volunteer for what she was going to experience. Perhaps the job wasn’t as advertised, or it took more time than advertised, or the volunteer felt that the work she was tasked with wasn’t meaningful, or there are political/interpersonal problems on the committee or task force, etc. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know what it is, and the only way to find out is to ask.

PH: Elizabeth is dead on … you need to ask. Also, if we’re talking about a critical role, consider adding a step in your process where the volunteer signs an acknowledgement of their job. This helps clarify the job and more firmly commits the volunteer.

Our volunteers mirror our membership, that is, they’re mostly Boomers. How can we get more Gen-Xers and Millennials involved?

EE: As described in the “Generational Differences” section of the whitepaper, you need to construct volunteer opportunities that mesh with their wants, needs, and capabilities. And you need to ask them, and not just via a generic “call for volunteers” email that goes out to your entire membership. If Gen-Xers and Millennials only see Boomers represented among your volunteers, they’re likely to assume that’s all you want and will accommodate. Just as you do for membership, actively and intentionally recruit them for volunteer positions.

PH: The research also tells us that Millennials are inspired by people they relate to who are older, so make sure that you are leveraging the Boomer members: are they available to your younger folks? Are they asking your younger folks to get involved?

Gen-Xers, research tells us, are inspired by entrepreneurial approaches and celebrate individual effort and risk-taking. Can you see those characteristics in your association brand?

We have started to use more high-tech ways of working with our volunteers (webinars, social media, video conferencing), which our younger members like but our more mature volunteers have trouble with. How can we help them?

EE: Research demonstrates that Millennials enjoy cross-mentoring more mature colleagues, particularly around issues related to use of technology. This presents a terrific way to build relationships between the generations, to create micro-volunteering opportunities for your younger volunteers, to allow them to develop the professional skills they seek through volunteerism, and for your Boomer volunteers to learn new skills as wekk.

How do we find out what motivates our volunteers?

EE: I know I sound like a broken record, but you have to ask them, and don’t be shy. Solicit feedback from your volunteers every chance you get and in every way you can think of. Some associations are starting to do annual volunteer satisfaction surveys, and that’s great. But you have so many opportunities to gather more informal feedback. Add it to a conference call agenda, or just chat about it casually while you’re waiting for everyone to join. Ask when you’re at an in person meeting, or when you’re going out for drinks after. Ask when you’re on the phone one-on-one checking in on the progress on the project. Ask via a quick poll. Don’t be afraid to talk to your volunteers about their experiences! How else are you going to learn?

PH: And start earlier with this asking! When a person first joins, find out his hot buttons so you can begin to build the connection between the decision to join and the decision to volunteer immediately.

Can you provide some examples of micro-volunteering?

PH: The easiest way to find these small jobs is to look at your volunteer positions and analyze the tasks. You will find a myriad of jobs that are short-term. A classic example is the publications chair. ASAE turned that on its head by creating the “writers pool,” an email group that helps their editors find story ideas and contacts.

EE: They’re almost limitless. You can ask people to suggest topics for your newsletter, magazine, blog, webinars, or conference, or vote on topics others have suggested, a la sxsw. You can ask people to rate an article or comment on a blog post. You can ask people to post a question or an answer to your LinkedIn group, private community, or listserv. You can ask people to make a personal call to a new member, welcoming her to your association. You can ask people to serve as welcome ambassadors at your chapter events, or as meeting buddies for first-timers at your annual conference. You can ask attendees to share their thoughts at a Town Hall meeting at your next event. You can ask people to take a poll or short survey. You can ask people to share your content through Facebook or Twitter. You can ask them how they’d like to contribute to your association. Truly, you’re only limited by your imagination.

You’ve convinced me. How do I get buy-in from the rest of the staff at my association?

PH: Why not use the whitepaper, as well as The Decision To Volunteer, as discussion starters? Pull together a staff meeting where you ask the question: how can we get more members involved? And show the ROI, namely that just one small activity increases a member’s average net promoter score substantially, from 38% to 44% (10 Lessons for Cultivating Member Commitment). Involvement increases retention; track that in your organization and share the results. Also, use testimonials from staff showing how volunteers helped get the job done.

EE: We’re back to that culture change thing again. One of the best ways to start, though, can be to do a small-scale experiment. For instance, the next time one of your committees comes up with a new project idea, run with it, but with a task force instead. Or ask if you can experiment with a “members welcoming new members” micro-volunteering campaign for six months. Or run a Town Hall meeting at your next conference and use it to create a series of blog posts or webinars. Make sure to document how things go, and share your successes and lessons learned widely at the end of the process. And then move on to your next test, and see if you can convince one more person on your staff to do the same.

Anything we missed? Leave it in the comments, and we’ll get right to it!