October 7, 2019
Volunteer leaders already have a full-time job, yet they give your association a great deal of their most valuable and irreplaceable resource: time. Do they get enough in return? If you want to engage and retain your volunteer leaders, it helps to understand why members take on volunteer leadership responsibilities and what benefits they’re expecting.
JoinInUK.org studied volunteer expectations and summed up the results in one word: GIVERS
Using GIVERS as a guide, let’s look at how you can meet the unique needs of volunteer leaders—and increase their retention and engagement as volunteers and members.
Leadership gives members the chance to acquire new skills and experiences, and stretch their comfort zone. It also helps them build their resume and reputation.
You may have members who are in leadership roles at your association but aren’t in leadership or management positions at work. They can’t always get leadership training at work, especially if they work for small organizations or companies that only provide leadership training to certain positions. Leadership training is an immensely valuable benefit for these members.
Leadership training helps you build a strong leadership team, bench, and pipeline. This larger pool of qualified volunteer talent brings new and diverse perspectives, voices, and networks to your organization.
Provide a mix of in-person and online leadership training sessions, along with coaching from past leaders. Create learning pathways made up of leadership training modules. When members successfully complete a pathway, they return to work with a new certificate or credential. They also bring their new skills back to work too, which could lead to increased employer support for volunteering.
Volunteer leadership satisfies a member’s desire to contribute and make a difference in their association and industry. Aspiring leaders are a different kind of person. They’re aware of their worth, believing their time and talent to be of benefit to the association.
Make sure you channel their talents into appropriate roles. Ask volunteers to complete a profile so you can learn about their interests, availability, leadership experience, existing skills, and skills they wish to learn. Put your AMS to work if, like MemberSuite, you can use it to match volunteers with appropriate roles.
Volunteer leaders know they’re making a difference, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them regularly of the impact they’re making: “If not for your hard work, we would never have done this.”
How long is the ladder to leadership? Is that ladder a barrier to leadership? Do members see leadership as a clique? Do they think only a certain type of member can become a leader?
Do other barriers—real or perceived—get in the way of members raising their hand for leadership? Members must see and hear evidence that volunteer leadership is for them. Messaging—intentional or not—must be inclusive. Make sure you’re sending the right signals.
Find ways to involve young professionals. They may not have leadership experience but they have a desire to learn and contribute. They will be reluctant to raise their hand if they sense barriers, so create leadership opportunities for them. Invite them to serve on advisory boards, task forces, working groups, committees, and Young Professionals councils.
Demonstrate what leadership looks like by sharing the success stories of volunteer leaders, the voices of experience. They can talk about the path they took, what they learned, and how leadership has benefited them personally and professionally.
Most members don’t volunteer for leadership positions because they’re afraid to over-commit their time. Who can blame them? The unknown is risky. Let members know up front how much time a position requires. If you’re not sure, ask previous volunteers and urge them to be frank about time requirements.
Respect the volunteer’s time. Leverage technology to minimize the need for travel to in-person meetings. Adopt consent agendas for meetings. Give volunteer leaders the resources they need to prepare for meetings and decisions ahead of time.
Alleviate the burden of leadership by rethinking leadership positions. One person is sometimes expected to do so much it becomes overwhelming. Spread out responsibilities. Teach leaders to delegate so they can share opportunities to contribute.
Rethink the leadership ladder. Few people feel comfortable committing to several years in a row of leadership responsibilities. How can a working mother take on such a commitment? Be more inclusive by allowing volunteers to move up or down the ladder so they can stay connected but take a break when needed.
Your goal is to make leadership a positive experience, and to reduce any stress or negative impact on a volunteer’s job or personal life.
Time is the most valuable asset, but let’s take a moment to address another challenge: money. Many volunteer leaders depend on an employer to support their time away from the office and their travel expenses to meetings. What if a member doesn’t have a supportive employer or is self-employed? Finances shouldn’t be a barrier to volunteer leadership. Consider funding or sponsorships for travel expenses.
Volunteers expect to be appreciated. Never assume they know it. Say the words. And, if your leaders volunteer for other groups, they may assume recognition is coming their way too.
Don’t fall into the trap of only giving recognition to certain volunteer roles, for example, officers, directors, and chairs. What about all the other members who volunteered their time? Recognize members of committees, project teams, tasks forces, working groups, advisory boards, judges, reviewers, and roundtable organizers. Value those members who could be sitting on your leadership bench one day.
Recognition doesn’t have to mean a plaque—some volunteer leaders may not even want one. Instead, consider one of these options:
Since leadership responsibilities sometimes prevents members from spending time with family and friends, give them something they can do with their loved ones, such as tickets to a game, show, or amusement park.
If, like MemberSuite, your AMS can track volunteer hours, send a special thanks when the volunteer reaches a milestone, for example, 40 or 100 hours.
Help volunteers develop relationships up and down the leadership ladder and pipeline. Start a private group—a leadership learning circle—in your online community where volunteer leaders can seek guidance from past leaders, share advice, and discuss new ideas.
Meeting the unique needs of volunteer leaders is a big job. But, with the help of the MemberSuite volunteer management solution, you can track and manage volunteer opportunities as well as individual volunteer profiles, availability, and engagement.