10: Five Tips for Success with Ad Hoc Volunteers

Volunteer continuum - consuming, promoting, creating, serving, governing

Starting in position 10, Five Tips for Success with Ad Hoc Volunteers

When I first wrote this post in 2014, Peggy Hoffman and I had recently released The Mission-Driven Volunteer. We looked at what associations were offering by way of volunteering – mostly rigidly structured committee service leading in a hierarchical way to board service, after which people were kind of pushed off the volunteering cliff – and what the data said about what people were looking for in their volunteering experiences – mostly flexible, time-and-effort limited tasks with a clear benefit to both organizational mission and to the volunteers accomplishing those tasks, with an eye towards helping associations shift more of their options for volunteers and the work those volunteers do away from the first and towards the second.

The tips all still very much hold true, things like making a specific (and personal) ask, providing clear instructions, being precise about the timeframe (both when it’s due and how much time the volunteer will need to invest), recognizing the volunteer (in a way that she values), and making the tie between the task and your association’s mission explicit.

How have things changed?

Well, we’re making headway as an industry towards being more flexible in offering ad hoc, micro, episodic, and (particularly in the past two years) virtual options for our volunteers, and in understanding, as Peggy puts it, that volunteerism isn’t a mountain you climb where, once you achieve being chair of the board, you get pushed off it never to return, but rather, it’s a continuum you move back and forth across as your own needs, availability, and interests align with those of the association you’re volunteering with.

Associations are always going to have committees – indeed, your bylaws probably require, at a minimum, a finance committee and a nominating committee (as they should).

But if you can pare back the busywork and the “we’re holding a meeting because we’re supposed to be holding a meeting” meetings and focus on work that’s appropriate for volunteers to do that will actually have a positive impact on stuff that matters to them  and to your association, you have the opportunity to create a virtuous cycle that will strengthen the network of ties binding your members and volunteers to each other and to your association.

Image credit: Peggy Hoffman, Mariner Management

Which Is Better: a Lot from a Little, or a Little from a Lot?

Which Is Better: a Lot from a Little, or a Little from a Lot?

One last question from my brief series on member engagement, inspired by serving on a virtual panel on engagement, organized by Mary Byers, for the Veterinary Medical Association.

Would you rather have a lot of members lightly engaged or fewer members more deeply engaged?

First, I guarantee your association does not have the capacity to support every member being fully engaged with everything the association does or offers. If that happened, you’d have to SUBSTANTIALLY increase your staff.

But this is really the wrong question.

Different members have different ability and willingness to be involved with the association at different points in their personal and professional lives.

To capture and visualize this, Peggy Hoffman (Mariner Management) created the brilliant volunteer engagement continuum pictured above, which spans Consuming, Promoting, Creating, Serving, and Governing.

Her insight is that people move back and forth along it as their needs and availability change. The genius of the continuum model is also that it helps us get away from the more traditional pyramid model where you aspire to be chair of the board of directors, and then if you get there (which most people don’t), when you’re done, you get, metaphorically, pushed out onto an ice floe.

ISACA, the association for professionals in assurance, governance, risk and information security, provides a great practical example of how to do this: https://engage.isaca.org/volunteeropportunities/howtovolunteer. (Volunteers can even earn spiffy digital badges.)

The point is to meet members where they are, being a solution provider to help them achieve their most important goals, which may include giving back to the profession or industry, and solve their biggest challenges, which may include developing professional skills through volunteering when those opportunities are not available through their jobs.

Image credit: Mariner Management

Membership 101: The Role of Volunteerism

Oncology Nursing Society volunteer contributions clock

“Engaged members renew.

Disengaged members don’t.”

If you’ve been around the association industry for more than a few minutes, you’ve undoubtedly heard at least one membership professional say that.

Volunteerism is a MAJOR opportunity for engagement.

But as we’ve discussed continually throughout this Membership 101 series, engagement, like brand, is defined by your audiences, not by you.

So how does that impact volunteering? After all, the association defines the board and committee structure, right?

Well, yes, but in 2018 I hope those aren’t the only opportunities for volunteering you’re offering your members.

In 2013, Peggy Hoffman (Mariner Management) and I wrote a whitepaper titled The Mission Driven Volunteer. It’s free, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should get a copy.

Our thesis was – and this remains true – that forces of generational change and differing needs and expectations mean that volunteering needs to change, too. Younger generations aren’t as interested in the type of prestige and position-based volunteering as their elders. They are still willing – even eager – volunteers, but their goals are different, concerned more with independence, meaning, and impact.

We proposed a model, mission-driven volunteering, that empowers individuals through things like micro-volunteering and adhocracy, and provides episodic and virtual opportunities to contribute.

The image above is from one of our case studies, the Oncology Nursing Society.

As Diane Scheuring, ONS’s membership and SIG manager, said: “We don’t want checkbook members. We want our members to say “yes” to ONS and to personally connected with us.”

One way they went about that is, rather than restricting definition of volunteer to committee or board service, ONS asked their members how they DO contribute and how they WANT TO contribute. Members’ responses led them to define volunteerism much more broadly, and also helped them better understand the concept of different levels of volunteering, represented by the clock image above:

  • Small investment: voting in an election, serving as a mentor
  • Bigger investment: item writing for their ONCC certification
  • Even bigger investment: national conference planning team
  • Biggest investment: serving on one of their few remaining standing committees or the board

By both changing the opportunities they offered and surfacing – and then recognizing – what people were already doing, they increased their volunteerism ration from one person in 26 to one person in five. In other words, 20% of their members are considered – and recognized as – active volunteers. This has had a positive impact on two of their key organizational metrics: membership retention and leadership development for individual nurses, which then increases the capacity of the entire system.

What are you doing to increase opportunities for different kinds of people to volunteer with your association? What are you doing to recognize the “hidden” work that’s already happening?



Happy Fabulous Five, Spark!

Floral design - Flower

Today marks five years since I launched Spark Consulting. As I look back on the past five years, I have much to be grateful for. Leading that list is all the people who’ve contributed to the success of this Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

First, I have to thank all my wonderful clients. Spark would not exist without each and every one of you. I particularly want to thank the American Chemical Society, my very first client, for being willing to take a risk on hiring the new kid in town, and Ross Simons for making the connection between a brand-new consultant and her first lead. Over the years, many of my clients have referred me to their colleagues and/or hired me again for additional projects. I can’t express how grateful I am for their confidence in me and my work.

Back in late 2011, I was working for the Children’s Hospitals Association. I’d been there for a few years and was starting to think about my next move. At the time, I was thinking it would be my first CEO position, leading a small association. I’d been in the biz for 14 years at that point, had my CAE and an MA, had worked in a wide variety of functional areas in association management leading a variety of different types and sizes of teams, and had even served as an acting CEO for a small association. I started applying for those types of positions, despite the fact that when I mentioned I was looking for my next gig, the nearly universal response was, “So you’re launching your own consulting business, right?” I want to thank Shira Harrington (Purposeful Hire) for being the one who helped me understand that being a consultant would be a better path for me.

Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and Jamie Notter came over to my house on a cold winter afternoon and helped me figure out what I wanted to call this new consulting business, how I wanted to frame the work I wanted to do, how brand Spark and myself, and brainstormed my clever URL (in which a discussion about “GetMeJamieNotter” led to “GetMeSpark”).

When I was starting out, I was fortunate to be invited to join a Mastermind Group that served as my kitchen cabinet, pushed me to define my goals, and helped me think through how to overcome the barriers to achieving them. Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Shira Harrington, KiKi L’Italien, and Sohini Baliga kept me on the right path during those critical first two years.

One of the most useful things I learned studying for the CAE 14 years ago was to know what you are – and aren’t – good at, and make sure to surround yourself with great people who know and can do what you can’t. I’ve been fortunate to work with four outstanding vendors on the tasks I can’t do for myself: Bean Creative for my website, ImagePrep for all my graphic design needs, Andrew Mirsky (Mirsky Law Group) for all my contracts and other legal needs, and Moran & Company for bookkeeping, accounting, and tax advice and planning.

My original career goal, back in college, was to be a university professor. I’ve always loved research and writing, particularly long-form essays. One of the most personally and professionally fulfilling things I’ve been able to do since launching Spark is the Spark collaborative white paper series. I now have the freedom to research and write, diving into topics that interest me and that I think are important for our industry.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a host of fantastic contributors for the nine existing monographs: Jeff De Cagna, George Breeden, Tom Lehman, Jamie Notter, Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Peter Houstle, Anna Caraveli, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Shelly Alcorn, Polly Siobhan Karpowicz, Tracy Petrillo, Sherry Marts, Joe Gerstandt, Jess Pettitt, and Joan Eisenstodt.

I also want to thank the many association executives who were willing to share the stories of their organizations’ work, struggles, and triumphs in the case studies that illustrate many of the concepts the white papers discuss.

Thanks also go to Alison Dixon (Image Prep), who’s done all the beautiful layout and graphic work on the white papers, and to copy editors Ed Lamb and Joe Rominiecki, who’ve done their level best to save me from my typos and grammatical errors.

The association consulting community more broadly has also served as a tremendous source of inspiration, help, and advice over the years. Many association consultants have generously given of their time and expertise to answer my questions, point me in the direction of resources I need, or just generally help me to buck up when things aren’t going as I’d like them to with the business. We may be competitors, at least on occasion, but we are a community and we help each other out, and that’s priceless.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have to thank my spouse, Jim. When I came home from that fateful lunch with Shira nearly six years ago, I was nervous. As far as he knew, the plan was to land a CEO position, with the attendant salary, benefits, and security. I knew I was about to announce that I might want to throw all that over in favor of the risk, excitement, and uncertainty of launching my own business. This change in direction would have a dramatic effect on him and his life as well, and I didn’t know how he’d respond.

When I told him what had happened over lunch and what I was thinking, he responded: “I think that’s a great idea. I think you’d be a terrific solo consultant. You should definitely do that.”

“Well damn,” I thought. “If he’s that confident, what in the hell am I so worried about?”

Five years later, here we are. It’s been a thrilling, challenging, amazing, terrifying journey so far. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.

Photo by Peedee on Unsplash

Supercharge Member Loyalty & Power Community Engagement

“Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.”

During our April 16 Higher Logic Learning Series webinar on volunteerism in honor of National Volunteer Week (#NVW2015), Peggy Hoffman and I were unable to get to all the questions in our allotted hour. So we’re hitting the rest now:

How do you find out what rewards the volunteers like/want?

EWE: Ask them! And it’s OK to be forward about it: “What would be a meaningful way for us to show our appreciation for your contributions?” But hopefully you – or someone else on your staff – are getting to know them at least a little during the course of their volunteer service, so you’ll have some insight into their personalities, hobbies, and key issues. Run with the fact that you know that she’s a dedicated cyclist or he’s a Washington Nationals super-fan. Also remember to scale level of thank you to level of contribution – in other words, someone who acts as a greeter at one of your chapter events probably shouldn’t receive the same type of reward as the person who served as chair of your Board of Directors for two years.

PMH: And ask others who know the individual. And build out your database to include age as a demographic category (which is a clue to understanding what generations people fall into), interest tracking, and robust tracking of volunteer roles.

One of our biggest concerns with creating all these additional volunteering options and levels of engagement is that they put the burden on the staff to organize and direct. Any suggestions?

PMH: Realize that there is a difference between start-up mode (more effort) and ongoing management (less effort). While you’re in transition, test procedures, technology, communications channels, etc., to find the ones that will best balance staff/volunteer time and effort.

EWE: It’s true – excellent volunteer management takes time, effort, and attention. That’s why many leading nonprofit organizations have one or more formal volunteer coordinators as full time staff positions. The thing is, if you add it up, your volunteers are saving your organization a tremendous amount of time and money by their unpaid labor. You owe it to them to provide appropriately professional support.

Can you share some ideas for micro-volunteering?

EWE: Opportunities for micro-volunteering are 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 vote in your elections. 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.

PMH: Great question! I’d also like to share two blog posts I’ve written on this topic: Walking the Walk of Deep Volunteer Engagement and Micro-Adhocracy, Macro-Engagement, both of which offer additional suggestions.

Are there best practices around how much recognition to give at a given level of service? For example, should a micro volunteer get more than an email thank you?

PMH: Suffice to say there is no “best practice.” It is true you want to scale your recognition efforts, so think of it this way: appreciate equally and acknowledge in the context of the contribution, so follow the rule of saying thank you early and often to all volunteers. If the task was micro (say reviewing an article), can you include a note acknowledging their contribution? If the volunteer was part of the host committee at your annual conference, a special badge is appropriate. As the task requires more time or effort, keep the thanks early and often, but scale up the recognition.

Studies on volunteer satisfaction suggest that for micro or episodic volunteers, recognition is most meaningful and beneficial when it coincides with the service, so an immediate thank you (on-site and post-event or activity) is a best practice. Doing this trumps any “gift.” As you plot out your recognition plan, focus on early, heart-felt thanks that specifically references how the volunteer made a difference.

The 2013 Volunteer Canada Volunteer Recognition Study showed that for 80% of volunteers, the most effective recognition was hearing about how their work has made a difference. 70% of volunteers said they would like to be recognized by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.

(By the way, least preferred ways of thanking volunteers in this study included: banquets, formal gatherings, and public acknowledgment in newspapers, radio, or television.)

Do you have any “HR program” that manages a lot of these processes that you have talked about today, and best practices?

EWE: If by “program” you mean software, just as there are loads of AMS, CRM, CMS, and LMS systems, so there is a plethora of volunteer management packages. Capterra runs a continuously updated rating system, as does Software Advice.

Now from the perspective of staffing for volunteerism, many associations opt for the “Joe staffs committee X and Mary staffs committee Y” model, which works OK for a traditional committee structure. But if you want to move more in the direction of ad hoc/micro/virtual volunteering, you need a volunteer coordinator. That’s a model that’s much more common in service organizations, like your local Food Bank, where they likely have a whole team of people whose entire job is to recruit and work with volunteers.

So how do you make the transition? Find someone on staff who’s interested in this and has at least a little capacity, and start with one task or project. Assuming that staff person does well and likes it, and the experiment goes well for the volunteers, too, you can start building more of these kinds of projects under the staff person’s direction, and gradually move her into a volunteer coordinator role, as the volume of work merits it. And then you might want to encourage her to become a Certified Volunteer Administrator, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax, so to speak.

PMH: Elizabeth is right; there are many volunteer management packages (my favorite is ivolunteer.com) and you’ll want to ask Higher Logic about their new Volunteer Manager. But for best practices, the challenge is that most of the formal materials are geared to service organizations. To create or evaluate your own, start by looking at the service organizations for a checklist. Then conduct a satisfaction survey to find out where you’re doing well and uncover weaknesses. Two go-to sources are: Tobi Johnson’s resource portal and the 501 Commons Volunteer Management Guide.

Building an online audience is so critical for us. How do we recognize our influencers for their contributions to audience building?

EWE: Again, I would urge you to talk to them and ask what they would value. “Top contributor” or “most valuable contributor” badges or ribbons, leaderboards, and feature contributor profiles are popular choices in many online communities, and they’re relatively easy to implement. But if you have someone who contributes actively because she wants to help people or build community, she’s probably not interested in “star status” – in fact, it may be in direct opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish.

Fill in the blank: Volunteers are….

EWE: Volunteers are AWESOME! No, seriously – they tend to be our most dedicated members who renew year after year, and they also tend to care deeply about the association, otherwise they wouldn’t be working for it for free. Which is really important to remember when yet another volunteer comes to you with yet another great idea you lack the budget or staff resources to implement.

Volunteers are also often UNDERAPPRECIATED. Staff can get into this, “What do you want from me now? Why are you creating more work for me? For the love of God, would you just leave me alone for 10 minutes?” mindset. Take a deep breath, take a walk, take a Xanax if you have to, but realize that the association doesn’t belong to the staff alone – it belongs to the staff, the volunteers, the members, the customers, and the other stakeholder audiences all together, and try to find your inner Zen.

Do you have any suggestions for how to convert millennials into volunteer leaders?

PMH: Two thoughts: (1) Implement an effective orientation and training program and they will convert; and (2) tap your chapters and components as farm teams. In my chapter, we just booted out all but two Boomers and brought in Xers and Millennials in an overhaul. There were limited opportunities for training, but the stakes aren’t as high in one of your component groups – it’s a safer environment.

EWE: Pair them with Boomers in a cross-mentoring relationship. The two generations are relatively inclined to like each other and get along (think about how many Millennials list their parents among their closest friends), and if you can help create an environment of mutual respect and information sharing, the Boomer mentors can help prepare the Millennial padawans with what they need to know and do in order to be successful, while the Millennials can share their unique perspectives and experiences to help keep the association leadership structure current and relevant.

And don’t be afraid to give your Millennial volunteers a chance. You might not want to run out and elect a 22 year old chair of your Board of Directors, but give her a shot to run a small project or a task force. The only way to get experience is to, you know, get experience. As she gains more skill and confidence, start scaling up the size or profile of the projects you ask her to run. And don’t equate lack of experience with lack of aptitude or interest. It’s like developing staff, only without paychecks.

I’m looking to build engagement around volunteer positions. Any advice?

EWE: As in, “why did these people volunteer if they didn’t intend to fulfill their commitments?” In the moment, intervene as soon as you notice a problem. And remember from CAE training: volunteer to volunteer. You need to talk to the volunteer in charge of your slacker, alert that next up the chain person to the problem, and ask the supervisor to talk to the person who’s not living up to her commitment. The conversation shouldn’t be accusatory: start by asking what’s going on. She might have a valid reason she hasn’t delivered yet. Maybe she wasn’t clear on what she was supposed to do, or on when it was due, or she’s waiting for something she needs from someone else (paid staff or volunteer) to move forward, or something has changed in her personal or professional situation. Discover the problem first, then focus on fixing that problem. If it’s unresolvable, remember that it’s OK for a volunteer to quit, and it’s also OK to fire a volunteer.

To prevent this from happening the future, think about the whole issue of the volunteer continuum Peggy talked about in the webinar, where you can test people’s level of commitment in small scale jobs before you assign them large scale jobs. Also consider auditing your orientation and training program to make sure you’re giving people accurate and sufficient information so they know what they’re committing to do, and they have the skills and information they need to complete those tasks on time.

PMH: Or if what you’re asking is: “how do I recruit people the first place?”, try breaking the jobs that are going unfilled down into smaller roles. Also, you should create action statements for the job, which directly tie the job to an outcome. Often, “no thanks” really means “I don’t understand the job and don’t have time to ask for clarification.”

In order to get and keep volunteers, create a strategy around getting connected or getting involved. This is essentially expanding your online “Volunteer page” to a “How to get Involved” portal. ASAE’s Get Involved portal is a good example in that is shows how to position volunteering options. It also draws you in, and lets you sign-up and opt-in for alerts easily. That, combined with a membership onboarding process that matches members to opportunities, will grow the culture of volunteering in your association. Once you have them plugging in, create a regular communication with them. Use updates, badging, and volunteer highlights to stay top-of-mind for them. And train your leaders to be talent scouts and talent mentors.

“Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.”



The Mission Driven Volunteer Rides Again!

Earlier this month, Mission Driven Volunteer co-author Peggy Hoffman and I had the opportunity to present about our research on this topic for Wild Apricot. As is often the case with webinars, we weren’t able to get to all the questions during the Q&A. So we’re answering them now.

What do I do about volunteers who are invested in the old way of doing things (standing committees, hierarchy, “paying your dues” before you can get involved, etc.) and don’t want to change?

PH: Start outside the system. That is look for places where you haven’t used volunteers to try new ways. Create a writers’ pool to invite members who are willing to comment on and contribute to your publications by responding to questions and inquiries on a monthly email distribution list. Or if you don’t already have a young professionals (or other targeted audience) group or committee, use the opportunity to set up a task force to assemble recommendations.

EE: See if you can get them to agree to an experiment. Pick one small task of the committee and involve ad hoc/micro volunteers in getting it done. Even better? Actively reach out to younger members for those ad hoc/micro tasks. Most associations are eager to bring more young members into the volunteer fold. Assuming it works well – which it likely will – pick another small task, same process. Nothing convinces like demonstrated success!

How do I get volunteers to follow through on their commitments?

EE: That is maybe the most intractable problem in volunteer management. We’re all familiar with the 80-20 rule (or perhaps it should be the 20-80 rule): 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. That’s exacerbated when, as with volunteers, there’s no real “stick” you can wield if people don’t follow through.

But Peggy and I feel that’s one of the biggest strengths of the mission-driven model. By increasing the number of small commitment volunteer opportunities and decreasing the number of large commitment jobs, you naturally work your volunteers through a ladder of engagement, with different volunteers electing to stop on different rungs. Because there are so many small-scale opportunities, people who want to contribute don’t end up accidentally taking on a role that’s too consuming for them, and the association has ample low-risk opportunities to see who does and doesn’t follow through, which helps you do more efficient and effective succession planning for those large commitment roles.

PH: And stop recognizing individuals who don’t follow through. One of the biggest mistakes we make in volunteer management is often overlooked but has huge unintentional consequences. By routinely thanking and acknowledging everyone on the committee equally we send the message that “sitting” on the committee is all they have to do.

How do I balance mission/big vision and the practical things we need to do to keep the doors open (like make sure we have a positive revenue flow)?

PH: Assuming you are talking about getting volunteers to do the operational work, tie even these “licking the stamp” jobs to the larger picture. For example, we have a tough time getting a treasurer for our small board because it’s a heavy lift in many ways. We had much more success when we talk about helping the organization use member and donor money effectively to meet member needs and drive the organization to success.

EE: Also, the two shouldn’t be incompatible. But it’s important to remember what’s the means and what’s the goal. Your mission is your association’s goal. A positive revenue flow is a means to that end, but it is not the end in itself, which is one of the things that ostensibly distinguishes us from the for-profit sector. If you feel like or experience that what you need to do to bring in revenue is incompatible with your mission, it’s probably time for your Board and senior leadership to do some serious soul-searching about why your organization exists and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Our association has more than one mission. How do we orient our volunteer opportunities appropriately?

EE: Despite our often-extensive lists of benefits, members generally join for one or at the most two reasons. This presents an opportunity for you to learn what your members really value, based on what they actually sign up to help with, and then to target mission-based opportunities to the specific members who, by their behavior, demonstrate that they’re particularly concerned about that specific aspect of your mission. And if you discover, based on observing behavior, that one aspect of your mission just isn’t resonating, that’s probably a clue that it’s time to re-examine that item.

Having a “volunteer coordinator” seems like a great idea. Is this a position that has to be filled by a staff member, or could it be filled by a volunteer? How would that work?

PH: Yes, the volunteer coordinator can certainly be a volunteer. It’s not an ad-hoc position obviously, so you do need a volunteer who’s willing to take on a big job. There are a couple of ways to handle this which I shared in a recent blog post. If you have a solo position, the person essentially operates as the match maker. They work with each program area (aka committee or project team) to identify volunteer positions. They interview members on interest areas and then forward names of possible volunteers to committees and teams for follow-up. Another strategy is to tie the volunteer coordinator to the member welcome or engagement team. So as your welcome team meets and greets members they essentially do the intake activity which is feed into the system.

Should we propose ad hoc/micro volunteering projects ourselves, solicit them from member volunteers, both, something else…?

EE: YES! That’s one of the key points of the National Fluid Power Association case study in the whitepaper: good ideas can come from – and should be solicited from – anywhere. To quote the charming children’s movie Ratatouille: “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” One of the best things about involving large numbers of your members actively in the work of the association is that it creates a culture in which it’s permissible for anyone to have a good idea.

PH: And Yes! It is a little like the chicken and egg question as you get started in opening up volunteering. You have to show members the possibilities and encourage members to offer ideas. So steal ideas to get started (here’s a list). Consider asking a group of members to get together and draw up a list of neat ideas.

We like the Mission Driven Volunteer concepts, but do you have any specific tips for implementing them in a really small staff association? An all-volunteer association? An association that has a really small pool of members to draw from?

PH: Think small. And focus on catching members on their way – that is ask them to help on something they are already participating in. For our monthly events, we started simply by sending an email accompanied by a list of small on-site jobs to all who registered for the event with the message that we needed a few helping hands at the event and since they were already coming could they help. To put together our social media pool, we pinged a few active members on social media and asked them to be part of a pool for six months. Tapping a volunteer coordinator to manage the effort is a great way to relieve staff of the primary duty. Finally, the main concept is to focus volunteer activity on mission – so you might want to simply start by having your volunteers rate their experience and tell you what will make it better.

If you are starting with a small pool of members, you might want to really focus on adhoc or task volunteering so you don’t tie up members on long-term commitments. And look for ways to involve people outside your membership. If you are a cultural group for example, there may be educators or students who aren’t members but could help the association.

We’re a mostly traditional association when it comes to volunteer structure, but we’re intrigued. How do we start moving down this road?

EE: I’m going to go back to my first response and urge you to start small, with a single experiment. Learn, succeed (hopefully), grow, gather supporters, continue to iterate. Change doesn’t come overnight, but it does come, if you are persistent.

PH: And read the Maryland CPA case study … they started with asking questions and then made changes slowly.

Listen to the full webinar:

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.

Risk: The Missing Link Connecting Strategy to Implementation

I’m excited to share the launch of the fourth whitepaper in the ongoing Spark whitepaper series, Risk: The Missing Link Connecting Strategy to Implementation.

Co-authored with Jamie Notter (JamieNotter.com) and Leslie White, CPCU, ARM, CIC, CRM, (Croydon Consulting), the whitepaper tackles the question: why do senior teams have so much trouble with strategic decision-making?

Our answer is that a major contributing factor is that they are unable to have good conversations about risk, risk management, risk appetite, and how that all relates to opportunity and opportunity cost, because they avoid conflict and have a mistaken understanding of what constitutes consensus. The whitepaper shares both theory and techniques to help senior teams have better conversations, make more informed choices about risk and opportunity, and ultimately, be more effective in forming and implementing their strategies as a result.

I’ll be blogging about the contents of the whitepaper all week, but in the meantime, pick up your free copy at http://bit.ly/MJ5oo8, no divulging of information about yourself required.

And don’t forget to check out the other Spark whitepapers:

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!

Mission Driven Volunteering: Where Do We Go From Here?

From the new Spark whitepaper, The Mission Driven Volunteer, written with Peggy Hoffman:

We know that switching to a mission driven model of volunteering isn’t easy. However, the era in which members had ample time and resources to serve on traditionally-organized committees that made all decisions slowly, deliberatively, and collaboratively is over. Data shows that your members still very much want to contribute their ideas and energy to your association, and, through you, to the profession or industry you serve. But they are asking for new things from your association. They want to contribute in ways that are meaningful to them and make a demonstrable difference, in small bites, and on – and only on – their schedules. They are mission-driven volunteers. Are you ready for them?

Want more? Download your free copy at http://bit.ly/13Wwe1F.