A major issue for associations everywhere is the acquisition of volunteers. It is not uncommon for an association's organizational structure to have volunteers that outnumber the staff. Typically, one staff member is doing the job of three, so finding volunteers is critical to their sanity.
Convincing someone to volunteer time out of their over-scheduled life is no simple task. Also, the people that you are recruiting are simultaneously being propositioned by other organizations. You're competing against PTA, sports leagues, homework, aging parents, walking the dog, work schedules, even enjoying a night of doing nothing at all. Your members are pulled in different directions and the last thing any of them have is time.
Thus, it's time to find some new ways to engage your members. As the demand for telecommuting and flexible scheduling grows, it is important that associations embrace a similar philosophy. Starting with volunteerism on members' terms.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of associations. These helpful people allow you to do even more with thin budgets and often help free up staff members to oversee larger management tasks. In addition to providing assistance in operations, volunteerism helps members feel vested in the association. Those who help build, feel ownership, which is a very effective retention method.
There are two main reasons most people are hesitant to volunteer:
Thus, the most effective thing you can do for your association's volunteer program is detailing exactly what you need and how much time it will take. You'll see a measurable difference in the number of people to volunteer for your organization when you take out remove this guesswork and start detailing the spectrum of opportunities available to members.
There are large, ongoing volunteer positions, such as ambassador roles, and those that fill temporary needs, such as event check-in. Typically, events and in-person volunteer positions seem the most pressing. However, there are also a number of opportunities for volunteers within your private online member community that often go overlooked. These new types of volunteer roles can make a large impact.
The attractive thing about these association volunteer opportunities is that most of them can be performed in short increments of time and fit nicely into busy volunteers' schedules. Plus, members that volunteer can usually do it from wherever they have an Internet connection.
Adding the flexibility of online volunteerism will improve your association's involvement rates. The math is simple. More involvement means a larger percentage of members being invested in your mission, process, and association. More investment equals higher retention rates.
Volunteerism is one of the cornerstones of engagement. People who assist your association believe in it and will take pride in its growth. They are also more apt to refer others.
When talking about online communities, we often refer to critical mass. Critical mass is the tipping point when your online community members contribute most of the content, energy, and administration. Some online communities reach critical mass in a matter of months, others take longer.
If you can get your members involved in a directed way, you'll decrease the amount of time it takes to reach critical mass. Ask volunteers to help with the following needs:
These private online groups provide ongoing feedback to your association of what is working and what may need revamping.
In a perfect world, these fine folks wouldn't be needed, but where groups congregate someone needs to ensure online community guidelines are adhered to.
Depending on the size and mission of your association, you may have multiple sub-groups within your online community. If you have volunteers with specific interests or expertise, you can ask them to own/lead an entire sub-community.
Work with the community management team to invite new members, pump the community full of value by coordinating content, and keep people engaged. Often these roles mirror that of your association ambassadors, but online. There may also be a social media component to what you ask them to do.
Online communities need content. Create a team of volunteer blog contributors. Topics can include meeting summaries; reviews of conferences, books, technology, or other helpful information; event recaps; and/or thought-leadership pieces.
Content needn't all be association or member-generated. Ask members to scour the web for relevant content, tools, and resources for periodic curated posts or emails.
Pro Tip: This role, in addition to the content contributors, can help your association become the place for information on your industry.
You're most likely familiar with these roles in software user communities. These volunteers give back with their expertise by answering questions on certain topics. You can assign topics in which the volunteer is knowledgeable. Make sure you include an escalation procedure should something be asked that he or she is unable, or unqualified, to field.
Think of these volunteers as content coaches. They inspire others to contribute ideas to the idea center or file drive (a contest to get members to contribute as many valuable resources to the community as they can in a set period of time).
A good host always greets guests and makes suggestions on something for them to do. New community members should be treated the same way. This volunteer position virtually greets new members.
An online community can serve as a dedicated feedback channel for your association. Give volunteers a topic and open up a group call or discussion on a focused topic, like a new website design.
Provide educational content to members through a webinar program. Allow volunteers to create lists of relevant topics and find content and thought leaders to participate. Give them help getting the word out, but let them take the lead. This type of content is invaluable to your online community and if it's brought to them by members on topics they find the most relevant, it will provide even greater value.
These volunteers mentor new members or people getting started in the industry. Most online communities make it easy for members to connect with potential mentors. This is a major benefit to Gen Y members since many of them desire input and feedback on their careers.
Recruiting volunteers is a difficult job, as most members are already stretched thin in their commitments. While most members' current commitments probably require a physical presence, associations are well suited to offer micro-volunteer positions that respect their members' schedules.
Online communities provide a way for members to help when they have a moment, even if it's a small window. Structure volunteer opportunities that take advantage of the online participation options afforded in your member community software platform. These roles both increase the involvement of that volunteer leader and provide extra sets of hands to your general membership engaged.
Communicating your needs, and the time you expect the role to take will help hesitant members utter one of the most beautiful words ever heard by volunteer coordinators - yes.