Associations rely heavily on the work of volunteers to successful achieve their goals year after year. Typically this is done by examining a list of open volunteer positions, making a call or directly recruiting potential candidates, and then slotting them into their roles. We worry about filling these positions, hope that we get the right people in the process, and feel at least a small sense of relief when all the spots are full.
Over the past few cycles I started to notice some patterns in the volunteers we found and the quality of their contribution - applications and backgrounds were not the full picture of how they would serve. Instead, in the application and on-boarding process there was a large question that we forgot to ask to each member.
Why do you want to volunteer?
Some people volunteer because they feel passionate about a cause. Others volunteer to get a line on their resume (though this is not an answer that they may share directly). People volunteer to network and meet fellow leaders and some others choose to volunteer because they are interested in learning more about an organization. There are dozens of reason why someone may want to volunteer, or want a specific volunteer position. Though background experience may best explain why someone is qualified for the job, it is only by asking why they want it at all that we can start to understand their own goals for the road ahead.
In the coming year I am focusing more on the individual volunteer experience. What skills do they want to gain? What connections do they hope to make? Similar to career counseling, I believe a one on one conversation with volunteers will help define not just what resources they need for success this year, but what potential continued paths of involvement exist for the future.
Yes, a volunteer is giving of themselves to the organization - in turn we need to act in a volunteer-centric mindset. As we do, and align the experience a volunteer has with the reasons they raised their hands in the first place, the more each one will be able to accomplish.
Here is a great example of an organization re-framing their offerings to be volunteer-centric in nature: http://www.thegoodgym.org/about/