March 2, 2020

Eliminating the Biggest Obstacle to Recruiting Volunteers

Eliminating the Biggest Obstacle to Recruiting Volunteers

Mark your calendar: National Volunteer Week is April 19-25 this year. Besides recognizing the members who’ve given their time and talent to your association, it’s a good time of year to review volunteer management practices and spot areas for improvement. Where better to start than at the beginning—volunteer recruitment.

Volunteering is one of the most potentially transformative membership benefits, but many members think they don’t have enough time to volunteer. With demanding work schedules, long commutes, and always-connected office cultures, they feel like their job and everything related to it already eats up a big part of their lives. What little time is left over might be devoted to family or parenting obligations, household chores, busy social lives, and the need to just chill.

But like anything, once volunteering becomes a part of your life, perhaps a biweekly or monthly habit, time magically appears. The challenge is: how do you get members to dip their toes into volunteering?

Something for Everyone: Micro- to Macro-Volunteering

Your organization needs a wide spectrum of volunteering opportunities so you have something to offer at every level of time commitment. For a new volunteer, a traditional volunteering role that requires a good deal of time, such as serving on a committee, will feel like a shock to their system.

Taking on a substantial volunteer role right away is usually too much too fast. If they can’t fit this role into their life easily, they could end up feeling stressed, resentful, or guilty if they have to pull back from volunteering responsibilities. Another one bites the dust!

Instead, offer ad hoc or microvolunteering opportunities for members who aren’t yet willing or able to give lots of time. With microvolunteering, members can volunteer when and how they wish, without having to make a long-term or heavy commitment of time.

Microvolunteering is not a new concept. Associations and nonprofits have always had microvolunteers who welcome attendees at a registration table, moderate roundtable or panel discussions, or participate for an hour in a community service project.

The Benefits of Microvolunteering Opportunities

Microvolunteering provides many benefits for members because it allows them to:

  • Fit volunteering into their busy lives.
  • Contribute their skills, knowledge, and experience without having to commit the time and energy usually required for committee service.
  • Make new acquaintances, if they’re volunteering alongside others.
  • Enhance their reputation, depending on the task.
  • Enjoy new learning opportunities that help them develop new skills, stretch their comfort zone, and gain confidence.

Your association benefits as well from microvolunteering because it helps you to:

  • Expand and diversify your pool of volunteers.
  • Build a deeper bench of potential volunteer leaders who bring new perspectives and ideas.
  • Expand your network of recruiters who can spread the word about the benefits of volunteering.
  • Alleviate the workload of committee members who can now delegate tasks to other members.
  • Provide the worker bees you need to develop and deliver new programs.

How to Get Started With Microvolunteering

The first step is to ask staff, directors, and committees to identify any microvolunteering opportunities in the work they normally do—or would like to do. Here’s a list to get you thinking:

  • Act as ambassadors who welcome and assist new members and prospects at events.
  • Collect data or get feedback from existing members or event attendees.
  • Review marketing materials and other content before publication.
  • Test website, member portal, or LMS usability.
  • Start discussions in your online community.
  • Help with external content curation.
  • Report back from industry conferences and meetings.
  • Contact policymakers during political action campaigns.

Committees are a great source of microvolunteering tasks because they sometimes unintentionally hoard involvement opportunities by dividing tasks amongst themselves.

Keep an updated list of microvolunteering opportunities on your website or member portal. Include an example or two in each newsletter. Share them in your social media updates too.

Helping Volunteer Leaders Save Time

When a member is ready to invest more time in volunteering, perhaps by serving on a committee or the board, they still want to spend that time wisely. Waste a committee member’s time and you probably won’t see them again next year.

Practice smart (and responsible) meeting management.

  • Tell volunteer leaders they must prepare for meetings by reading any supporting materials ahead of time.
  • Require chairs to use a consent agenda so meeting time is reserved for critical discussions and decisions.
  • Provide an online community or collaboration platform where groups can discuss issues and share information between meetings.
  • Reduce the need to spend time on travel by hosting meetings virtually.

Before a member takes on a committee role, make sure they understand what’s expected of them, for example, their responsibility for preparing for the meeting and following up with action items assigned to them.

Lobbying for a Member’s Time

Your association can also help members who can’t take time away from work because their employer isn’t cooperative—a different problem requiring a different solution.

Instead of selling the member on the benefits of microvolunteering, you have to sell their employer. Education is a powerful means of persuasion. Create a webpage, handout, and email template that promotes the benefits of employee volunteering for employers, such as:

  • Support for volunteering is an employee recruitment and engagement tool in a competitive talent marketplace.
  • Volunteering is a motivational experience for employees that will engage them more deeply in their job and their profession/industry.
  • Allowing employees to volunteer for the association is evidence of the employer’s support of the profession/industry and enhances the company’s reputation.
  • Employers benefit from the leadership and skills training provided by the association for their employees.

Employers aren’t the only ones who don’t understand the benefits of volunteering—many members don’t either. In our next post, we’ll describe several other obstacles to volunteering, including the lack of knowledge about its benefits. In the meantime, click here to learn more about the volunteer management solution within MemberSuite’s all-in-one AMS.