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Cultivate Volunteer Engagement - The Sky Is the Limit

Written by Lauren Wolfe | on April 13, 2015 at 9:36 AM

It's National Volunteer Appreciation Week!

92.2% of association members reported volunteering with their association or another organization, according to ASAE's Decision to Volunteer (2014), which published the results of a survey of more than 26,000 association professionals. So it's no surprise that volunteers are an essential resource for any organization, especially associations. Empower your members to get involved by making volunteer opportunities easy to access and in a format they find useful. The generous commitment and efforts of your volunteers should be acknowledged and recognized on a regular basis, however National Volunteer Week offers a formal opportunity to reward their efforts.

This week is also a great time to look at other volunteer programs as a source of inspiration. Check out these two examples of organizations with vibrant volunteer stories and sky-high volunteer engagement:

1. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)

ASAE's Volunteer Town Square - visit the community

ASAE has always had a vibrant volunteer community. Members looking for volunteer opportunities were not hard to find, but were difficult to manage, especially for those members outside of the Washington, D.C. area. ASAE invested in creating a space where volunteers, of all term commitments and project scope, could collaborate. In 2013, ASAE launched Volunteer Town Square (VTS). Here the ASAE staff manage 45 long-term volunteer groups including volunteer leaders, committees, councils and ad hoc projects. These groups involve over 850 members each year in the work of ASAE.

Through this portal members can find new volunteer opportunities, browse volunteer categories and commitments, and set up project alerts - all that fit their schedule and interest. Mostly importantly, Volunteer Town Square has changed the engagement game. ASAE found new volunteers through this new channel of communication. ASAE members found more opportunities and got more involved because project details were easier to find and included more information before commitment. Volunteer groups are stronger because members can make informed decisions on when, where and how to volunteer.

I spoke with The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Manager, Volunteer Relations, Matthew Coffindaffer and he told me: "The VTS gives ASAE ways to recruit volunteers for short term volunteer activities. Staff have found it to be an uncomplicated way to find qualified volunteers quickly. Moving ASAE's recruitment of volunteers to VTS has provided an opportunity to invite members to volunteer that we might not have reached otherwise. The result is ASAE's groups have become more diverse with better representation, by creating underrepresented groups in the association management community. I would absolutely recommend this program to other organizations looking to attract and engage volunteers."

2. The National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)

NCURA's Volunteer Central - visit the community

Volunteers and National Officers are an integral part of the NCURA culture, so they created a dynamic, online volunteer management portal in 2013. NCURA Volunteer Central is essential to the happiness of members. They have 55+ volunteer opportunities for traditional functions like leadership positions such as Board of Directors or Chair titles, writing for their magazine, speaking at their annual meeting and participating in committee work. NCURA has also expanded the scope to include non-traditional opportunities like leading a dine-around dinner, hosting a fitness class at an upcoming meeting or event, and helping cultivate content through social media like Twitter and Facebook. NCURA staff can post opportunities that include decision-making details like type, date, interest area, contact, time commitment, travel, description, category, level of effort and number of volunteers needed. NCURA acknowledges volunteers at an annual meeting luncheon and this year are planning to add digital badges to volunteer community profiles. Stephanie Moore, Community Curator, says she'd recommend investing in a volunteer community because it drives members to the platform to view opportunities and communities.

NCURA Board Member Glenda Bullock, Director of Research and Business Administration for Washington University in St. Louis, says: "Signing up for volunteer opportunities through Volunteer Central is very user friendly and simple. The site is designed with the volunteer in mind. It shows the various opportunities available, the time commitment required and even lists the number of volunteers needed for the activity. The best part is once you're signed up the system tracks the items you've signed up for and reminds you. If for some reason your plans change you can always edit or remove an item from the sign-up list."

Be more than hot-air.

Is your organization asking for volunteers because they always have or is there a specific need? Do more than you've always done. Be real with volunteers and provide real opportunities. If you get a member engaged in volunteering, over time the member will see value and renew membership year after year. Higher Logic's Community Manager Lindsay Starke says that by being volunteers they've already shown you that they believe in your organization and its mission. Nurture those relationships, and you'll have a team of fervent and engaged advocates. Create an adventure your members will want to experience. Think big, keep aiming high and oh, the places you'll go.

Fill in the blank. Volunteers are _________________________.

Topics: Volunteer Management, Associations, Member Engagement, Online Community

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