Mutually Beneficial Volunteer Programs Increase Engagement and Retention

Updated: Feb. 27, 2020  |  Categories: Volunteers  

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For the most part, your chapter lives and dies by the work your volunteers do. Have enough of the right ones in the right roles and your chapter operates smoothly and effectively. However, being down a few volunteers or having volunteers in the wrong roles stresses everyone, including your board and your members.

You probably have a lot of goals for your volunteer program (set some if you don’t). And, if one of those goals isn’t to keep both the board and your members highly satisfied with your program, it needs to be. This idea of mutually beneficial means that not only are you happy with the work–the quality and the quantity–being accomplished by your volunteers, but it also means that your volunteers are happy, engaged, and satisfied with what you’re asking them to do.

What can you do to help ensure everyone is, and continues to be happy with your volunteer program?

Matching the right person to the right volunteer opportunity is critical to your continued success. A 2015 study from the ASAE Foundation explored the challenges of engaging and managing volunteers, and they found that most associations don’t use their volunteers to their fullest potential.

According to the survey, 53 percent of former volunteers and 58 percent of non-volunteers said they wanted to be more engaged. Those large numbers could mean something significant for your chapter; do you have a pool of members available to volunteer that you’re not taking full advantage of?

However, even if your members are looking for opportunities, if those you’re offering aren’t what they want, you won’t see a difference. To better match your opportunities to your members, you’ll need to be sure you know what they want, what they can do, and how they can do it.

Consider segmenting your opportunities into categories and adjusting your opportunities where you can to better match the needs, interests, and availability of your members.

Episodic: These are for people who can be available more regularly. They include tasks like heading committees, planning monthly meetings, reviewing submissions for awards or scholarships, matching mentees and mentors, overseeing your annual chapter member survey, etc.  

Ad-hoc:  These short-term opportunities have a specific purpose, as well as starting and ending points. These are the people you call on to help when you’re looking for the speaker for your annual conference or exploring new association management software and need to evaluate vendors and make recommendations to your board.

Micro:  Micro-volunteering opportunities are part of larger tasks you’ve broken into smaller, more digestible ones that allow members to do things that better fit their availability. They can still feel like they’re making an impact, even if they don’t have a lot of time to do it. If you want five blogs a month on your website, split that into five separate posts and ask different members to write each one. Ask a different person to post them. You could do the same for regular emails you send out or for the planning you need for a single meeting.

Start by listing all your volunteer needs. Check that you’ve included everything by asking your board, your committees, and your membership. Then, sort the opportunities into the above categories, and validate the complete list with your membership.

Have activities that fit all your members

Your goal should be a range of volunteer experiences to engage all your members–millennials, experienced, new in to the industry, new to the area, retirees, etc.–as well as those you may not realize you’re underserving. Be sure to have  volunteer opportunities available to all.

Redefining your volunteer program and creating a variety of opportunities to match your members’ volunteering preferences and abilities will help with engagement, while delivering value you can measure and help you continue to meet your mission and vision. 


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