Focus on Volunteers: Ten Steps for Volunteer Engagement

By Jack Shand, CMC, CAE. Executive Partner - Leadership Consulting and Search

1. Member Needs: The first, and without question most important, step is the identification of members’ common and individual needs. Association executives must not only identify them; they must document them and be seen to be acting upon them.

2. Mission Focused Leadership: is all about establishing and communicating a dream. Some call it the organization's "willed future." This is the work of leaders. Defining values, setting direction and articulating goals are all keys to engaging people so that you can set about developing and confirming the organization's vision and mission.

3. Match Needs to Opportunities: Match the individual member's aspirations to volunteer opportunities. Understand that association goals must be consistent with the volunteer's personal and professional interests. Present an opportunity for the member to achieve his or her goals. A number of years ago the Weyerhauser Corporation cut its support of associations by half - from $1 million to $500,000 in annual dues - by simply reviewing the associations’ and the company’s mission. Where there was complementary activity, support was maintained.

4. Job Descriptions: Job descriptions, terms of reference, and committee work plans are all essential. Harriet Naylor, who wrote for the National Volunteer Centre in the U.S., said: "I need to know in some clear detail what is expected of me....I need to see progress is being made toward the goals we have set."

5. Communicate: A major conference on voluntarism published the following conclusion: "What delegates agreed was that the current paralysis of will [to transform society and affect positive change] reflects a lack of communication, an absence of coordination, muddled information, and too few participants." Tell volunteers how their work fits into the 'big picture.' Publish news (e-mail or print) exclusively for your volunteers that highlights plans and achievements, explains new policies, and tells volunteers how their contribution has meaning across the organization.

6. Overcome Barriers: Through Innovation Determine the barriers (e.g., time) which inhibit participation and be innovative in creating solutions. No time to volunteer? Hold fewer meetings; meet on-line or post issues in news groups for comment; adopt a 'consent agenda' to dispense with process-oriented items. Use a sales principle by learning how to overcome objections.

7. Orientation: Orientation must take place at a specific time and be a formal process with tangible materials. The goal is to be clear about the time commitment, scope of the task, expectations, outcomes, and available resources. Orientation helps the volunteer to become enrolled by providing a complete overview of the organization and how their contribution is making a difference.

8. Efficiency: Results-oriented people will be frustrated with inane discussion or meetings which focus more on process than results. Volunteers should focus on policy recommendations (the work of committees and task forces) and decisions (the role of the Board of Directors). Find methods to enhance the efficient use of time (e.g., distribute the pre-meeting information recorded on audio for the volunteer to listen to while sitting in traffic or on the drive to the meeting, or have it in an password-protected online forum for review by volunteers at a time convenient for them).

9. Recognize and Reward: There is nothing more fulfilling than public recognition and praise from one's community and peers. Create a program to recognize and reward your volunteers. It's okay to make a big fuss!

10. Care: People don't respond if they know you do not care. Quinn Mills, an award winning professor at the Harvard Business School, said "people really don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Care for individuals, their dreams, and their needs. If a prospective volunteer feels that you will genuinely listen to and act upon his or her ideas and needs, you will have created a significant incentive for that person to become involved.

© The Portage Group. 2014.