Reduce Barriers to Entry

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Just about every association I know of is struggling to recruit younger members (aka Millennials).

Part of the reason for that is that we’re erecting barriers to entry rather than removing them.

What’s required to be considered part of your association’s community? A certain degree? A license? A certification? MONEY?

Those are all barriers to entry that a young person may not be able to clear – at least not yet. What you’re telling them, in effect, is: “You are not welcome here.”

No wonder, when they can clear or have cleared those barriers, they aren’t returning. You made them feel unwelcome right when they needed you, when they were new in their careers, when they didn’t have an established network, when they needed a job. You turned them away. And for what? A few bucks?

Fundraising organizations know that if they can establish a relationship and loyalty up front, the dollars will come. Even if they don’t, those committed young fans will contribute in all sorts of valuable ways: volunteering to help with the mission-driven work of the organization, recruiting other supporters, amplifying messages and stories online and on social media.

Learn more about how fundraising organizations create alternate entry points to belonging and how associations can adapt their methods in the latest Spark whitepaper, Steal This Idea! Innovations in Cause-Oriented Fundraising for Associations freely available for download at Pay special attention to the stories of the Capital Area Food Bank and the CFA Society of Minnesota on pages 28-31.

Photo by Jumpei Mokudai on Unsplash

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

The presentation Peggy Hoffman, Eric Lanke, and I recently gave at ASAE’s Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference on volunteer engagement was about learning to manage volunteers by being a volunteer, aka “Walking a Mile in Their Shoes.”

I addressed this topic by sharing my story of volunteering with the National Capital Area Food Bank as a means of illustrating the following points:

  • Learn by doing: What can we learn about what works, what doesn’t work, and what our volunteers need to be successful by volunteering ourselves?
  • Have a defined task: Do your volunteers know exactly what you need them to do?
  • Create clear expectations: Do your volunteers know what constitutes success at their volunteer tasks, and how they’ll know when they’re done?
  • Match skills to opportunities: Do you work to find out what your volunteers are really good at and really passionate about before matching them with assignments?
  • Ensure their time is well spent: Do you respect your volunteers’ time?
  • Show that their efforts are appreciated: Do you make sure your volunteers see the impact of their work? Do you report back on what happened with the ideas and recommendations they provided?

Per our session design, I then asked attendees to apply those principles to answering the following question: What have you learned from your own experiences as a volunteer that you can bring to your role as a manager of volunteers to improve their experience with your association?

Our session participants came up with some great advice:

One woman talked about her experiences as a soccer mom to point out that we need to be careful not to over-complicate or over-manage the process. If people want to volunteer, make it easy for them to contribute and get involved. Be ruthless about stripping away any unnecessary hurdles.

Another attendee warned us, based on her time serving on the PTA, to beware death by meetings. It can be hard for 100% volunteer organizations to find good facilitators, but that’s critical to respecting your volunteers’ time. When people are forced to waste time in long meetings that go nowhere and accomplish nothing, they quickly become disillusioned and disengaged.

One participant referenced phone banking to raise money for a college alumni association to illustrate the importance of communicating with your experienced volunteers. If processes, procedures, goals, policies, etc. change, new volunteers won’t know any different, but your experienced volunteers will be confused, and, again, potentially turned off to volunteering for your organization.

What have you learned from your own experiences volunteering that you can apply to your association work to help you do better by your volunteers?