Monday, September 26, 2011

Volunteers at the Center

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:


  1. Another great post Lowell! I really enjoy your blog.

    In my experience with volunteering (and recruiting volunteers) it's often the overlooked skill set of the volunteer that can be a big benefit to the organization. Having a list of volunteer activities is good to start for those who don't have any idea what they want to do but speaking with volunteers to uncover those hidden talents is wonderful. Even asking volunteers what they like to do in their spare time can uncover a great volunteer opportunity/need. (Example: you find out someone writes as a hobby. Maybe they can "tell" your association's story in a guest blog post.) Plus when you involve someone in doing something she really has a passion for, she's more apt to continue volunteering.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Christina - glad you like the blog!

    Great thoughts - the more we get to know the person who is volunteering, the better we can find opportunities to maximize their experience based on their background and interests (both professionally and personally). In the end, it all comes down to having conversations and forming relationships - with open dialogue all the rest becomes evident.