Sunday, April 21, 2013

Get Rid of the Volunteer Cliff

Associations need volunteers.  We rely on our volunteers for strategic insight, strategy and direction.  Our volunteers become our subject matter experts, serving as guides and gurus for one another under the association framework.  Through our volunteers we benefit from local or specialized groups and programming.  For every organization there is a path of growth and recognition, however formal, that a volunteer travels.  Their journey may start from handing out name badges, and in a number of years they may end up on the Board of Directors.   These paths are neither constant nor pre-established, but they exist and we rely on them to drive our organizations forward just as much as we look to the bottom line on the financial returns to be ever growing.

The primary focus for most associations is to feed the pool of volunteers.  As organizations expand there is an ever enlarging demand to fulfill the number of responsibilities to make everything run.  Recruiting new volunteers, avoiding volunteer burnout, creating a volunteer acceleration curve – these are all primary foci of associations.  Yet, instead of creating a volunteer path I believe too often we create a volunteer cliff.
A volunteer has given to you organization – they have climbed the proverbial volunteer ladder and reached the pinnacle – be it the association BOD or their own local chapter presidency – I ask, what next?  Too often we make the assumption that there are lifetime diehards who are so committed to the association that without a next step they will find their own next step of involvement.  I believe this is taking for granted one of our most valuable resources.

We all know volunteers basically work a part time job in the time they commit to our organizations – for no pay.  If we can not help them realize what options they have to continue that volunteer growth, then we risk losing their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the very things that make our associations great.  So they have been Chair of the BOD – even Past Chair – what next?  Do you have a suggested path they should follow?  Options for how they can continue to contribute that are portrayed in a manner that does not seem to be a step backwards?

I believe this is one of our neglected groups of volunteers – the PVIPS (Post VIP’s) – they have had the limelight, influenced the direction of the organization – locally or globally – and have been ‘put out to pasture.’  If you do not have specific ways they can stay involved, then the assumption that they will is false.   Here are just a few options:

1.       Mentorship: for next gen leaders, for those entering the profession, for forming ‘clubs’ of past presidents, vp’s, treasurers, etc – how can these leaders take their hands-on knowledge and serve as mentors to those that come next and beyond
      Advisorships: Rather than mentoring a person, what if these leaders still had the option to submit feedback on the strategic direction and initiatives of the organization?  The BOD would have a knowledgeable source to rely upon for perspective.
      Implementation:  Neither the BOD nor the staff can do everything – and we should not expect them to do so.  After identifying strategic initiatives and creating task forces, etc – what if these leaders stepped into roles of direction and implementation – something nature to their past leadership experience

Of course there are more options – but in whatever path(s) you establish, to forget about your FIBS (Former Important Big Shots as used in my org – yes, they have ribbons) is to let go of one of your most valuable resources.  Our long standing volunteers deserve thanks, recognition, and assistance in understanding how they can continue to contribute and lead.  That path divination is in many ways up to us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Pluto of the Galaxy

I am on my way home from my association's spring conference where I had the chance to catch up with a number of dedicated volunteers.  In the midst of checking in and offering words of appreciation I came across one hard working volunteer who was not her usual happy self.   As we had a cup of coffee and she caught me up, she said one of those phrases that paints such a perfect picture of emotion and relationships that it had to be shared.

For some time she had been spearheading the committee to create education through webinars for her members.  Though an officer of the local board, she felt like there was an 'inside clique' among some of the other leaders.  It wasn't that she wanted to be part of the 'clique' - but she felt like her input on strategy and direction was not considered equally - that in trying to contribute to the organization she loved, despite her hard work, her voice was not being heard.  In short:

"I feel like I am the Pluto of the galaxy."

Now whether she meant that she was the smallest planet, furthest from the sun and often forgotten, or that she was even no longer considered a planet (which still just seems wrong to me) - either way, it is a feeling of isolation and lack of importance.  Not every volunteer can be President - not every one should be - but every volunteer should feel valued.  Every volunteer should be a strategic partner.  Every volunteer should have a voice that is part of the conversation - after all, it is by their hands that the work gets done.

As for my volunteer above - I am sure that if another group came along that made her feel less like Pluto and more like the Sun that she would shift her own focus to where her input was valued.  It would be a loss to the board, the membership and the organization.  As we look at how we help advise our volunteer leadership, how we work on volunteer recognition, we have to remember that if we don't make our volunteers feel out of this world, someone else will.