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4 Ways Your Association is Letting Volunteers Down (And How to Fix It)

Written by Julie Dietz on July 20, 2016 at 8:30 AM

How you may be letting volunteers down, and what to do about it.

What does your office look like? Are you close to your coworkers or your boss? What about your volunteers? Associations often have volunteers coming and going, emailing, or calling in order to get feedback and direction for their projects. You might talk to or email some of your volunteers more than your colleagues. Maybe you've even come to rely on them for help managing daily tasks, planning events, or welcoming new members.

Associations may rely on volunteers for a number of reasons, including working with a limited staff, or simply because the association is large, with chapters spread out around the world. Regardless of the reason, the work volunteers do for associations is essential.

Managing the volunteers that give you so much support isn't easy, however. Each volunteer has a different history with your organization, varying expectations, and unique strengths. Those differences make it easy to unintentionally let volunteers down, especially when you're focused on other projects.

Intentional or not, your volunteers aren't a group you can neglect. You need to create a positive, welcoming environment to recruit new volunteers and keep the ones you have coming back week after week. You can start by making your volunteers a priority and avoiding these four common volunteer program pitfalls.

4 Mistakes that Are Costing Your Association Volunteers

Mistake #1) Neglecting Your Website

Since volunteer recruitment often happens online, your website is critical. If your members are digging through page after page trying to find something to do with your organization, then you're making them work too hard. They may even give up.

It should be easy to find volunteer opportunities on your public website or in your online community, so start by listing your volunteer positions in a central, easy-to-find location. Don't bury the volunteer page in the back, and make sure to post opportunities more than once. By posting multiple times you're more likely to reach members who don't log in every day, but only look at recent updates.

Be sure to keep volunteer opportunities current as well. If your listings are months or years old, you'll only discourage members who want to get involved.

Mistake #2) Focusing on Large Commitments

Your members are busy, and they may not have the time to commit to large or long-term projects. For those who want to get involved but don't have loads of time, your long-term volunteer projects can be frustrating. Give everyone a chance to participate by finding a balance between extended projects and bite-size contributions.

Microvolunteering opportunities, for example, are a great way to diversify how people can get involved with your organization. Microvolunteering opportunities are small projects that members can do in a few minutes or a few hours, often at home from their computer or smartphone. Since they're so short, and members are only committing to completing single task one time, it's easier for them to say "yes" to your volunteer program.

Shorter commitments like microvolunteering help members get their foot in the door. Make the tasks fun, and you'll encourage members to contribute multiple times, possibly even leading to more involved volunteering in the future.

Mistake #3) Creating Only Generic Opportunities

You should have some general volunteer opportunities that all members can participate in, but that shouldn't be the extent of your offers. What about your expert members? If you have skilled members doing data entry every time they volunteer, it's unlikely that they'll keep coming back.

Take the time to set volunteers up with tasks that match their abilities. Volunteers with computer skills may be able to help maintain your website, for instance. Members who are good at connecting with people can help with onsite event registration.

When your volunteers are placed in the positions that they know best, you'll get more from them. You'll also help them feel confident and useful. They already know they're great at what they do, and they're happy to lend you that expertise.

Finally, be sure that your volunteer tasks have the right level of importance. A project that's too important to be neglected might be better off with paid staff. A task that's so low on your radar that you forget about, however, also shouldn't be given to a volunteer. Your volunteer's time is valuable too, and if they put a lot of effort into a project that slips your mind, they won't feel appreciated, and may not continue volunteering.

Mistake #4) Not Articulating Value

Everyone wants to feel valued, especially when they're giving away time and expertise for free. You need to clearly explain how valuable your volunteers to everyone involved. That includes thanking your volunteers personally, discussing their contributions with your staff, and highlighting volunteer contributions to other members.

One easy way to showcase your volunteers' value is with your online community. Track the number of hours volunteers put in and publish it on your community home page. You can feature top volunteers in your email newsletter, or focus a set of blog articles on them so everyone can see how important they are to you.

No matter how active your online recognition is, don't neglect everyday actions. If your volunteers are working in your office or at an event, for instance, be sure you don't breeze past them. Say hello, and introduce them to the employee or vendor you just got out of a meeting with. A simple introduction is an easy, often overlooked action that has a lot of power in communicating value.

Volunteer Program Takeaway

Volunteers should be a priority from start to finish, which includes creating the best opportunities available, advertising them correctly, and explaining how volunteers are helping your organization. If you're leaving out any of these pieces, your association may be frustrating its most involved members.

Approach your volunteer program as an ongoing project. Consistently evaluate and post new opportunities online that provide a range of ways to contribute. Recognize veteran contributors consistently, and go out of your way to make them feel special.

Bring new volunteers into the fold often, and build your program one step at a time, ensuring that your organization gets the help it needs from satisfied, happy volunteers.

 Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Volunteer Management, Associations, Online Community

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