Flip the Pitch —Turning Volunteering a Real Opportunity for Members

I hate being the new kid.  It’s like September in school when the teacher doesn’t know your name and you have nightmares you’ll forget your locker combination. While it’s awkward and uncomfortable to be new, it is the perfect time for organizations to invite members to become volunteers.

Members join an organization for varying reasons, but they are never more enthusiastic than in the beginning. Volunteering is one of the best ways to meet people and scrub the stiff, uncomfortable newness off a membership. Despite the benefits, few organizations have created volunteer roles that ease-in new members or communications programs to let them know what opportunities are available. It takes some time and prep work by your current volunteers, but it will pay off in reduced workload and easier transitions.

Re-Tooling Volunteer Jobs

There are many publicly recognized roles in associations and nonprofit organizations — Board President, Program Chair, Committee Member and others.  Anyone walking in the door can spot them. These are big roles with big time commitments. New members often are not qualified and or ready to fill these roles. So what else have you got? Need someone to stamp envelopes? That’s a volunteer job. Check in for the first hour of registration.  Volunteer. Stuff gift bags, make directional signs, lead a workshop? You probably need that too. And you probably end up scrambling to find someone to do it, paying your association management company, or overworking your committee chair and staff to get it done. Why not consider offering volunteering at a micro level?

Got an hour? You can help with these tasks.  An hour a month? Here are some jobs you might like. Ask your current volunteers to brainstorm the volunteer tasks they do (or need done) and list them in time commitments such as —

  • An hour or two at most
  • An hour a month
  • A day a month
  • Weekly work
  • Short term project

List jobs that fall under the time category and let people know how to get more information or sign up. Post on your website and have handouts at your programs to let people know you have ways for people to get involved for as much or as little as time as they would like.

Why Volunteer

Most descriptions I have seen of volunteer opportunities start with “we need help with…” Organizations need to ask themselves why people have joined their group in the first place. People who join trade or professional associations are not typically looking for charitable volunteering. They joined the association for some other professional, educational or social benefit and volunteering should meet those needs. What are your members looking for? Networking? Experience? Resume building? The person looking to network isn’t going to be satisfied with the “job” of stuffing envelopes. The resume builder probably wants a named committee, board or chairperson role to add to their professional credentials. As you are thinking about the time a job takes, also identify what goal a volunteer role might satisfy.  One member may want to work on a committee to get to know a small group well while others may want to be program speakers to share their expertise with as many people as possible. You can then identify which roles will help members find what they are looking for— and get people more suited for and satisfied by the job.

Build Better Volunteers

One of my current clients had an amazingly successful volunteer training program already in place when we started working together. It is delivered as a webinar led by the (paid staff) volunteer coordinator. Only people who agree to fill out a form and participate in the webinar are considered official “volunteers”. The folks that have gone through the program have become excellent volunteers. Committed, reliable and competent. But there are not that many of them. Because of the barrier to entry, many members who are active on Facebook, attend events and answer questions in the member forum (great places to look for new volunteers) don’t pursue volunteering.

For this client, we are taking the time commitment and benefit concept to the next level and creating membership categories, ranking tasks and writing job descriptions from event volunteer on up to board member. The goal is to begin looking at volunteering as a chain that draws members in closer and identifies the best candidates for critical positions.

 Lead with Transparency

Lastly, one of the biggest mistakes I see in volunteer communications is the closed circle. The current staff and/or volunteer board maintain what seems to be a secret process for determining who get “in”.  Use your job lists, job descriptions, website and other promotion tactics to be as transparent as possible about which jobs are open and what qualifications are needed. If you have prerequisites – if filling a “lower-level” position first is required, for example – put it out there so prospective volunteers know. There may be some roles that would be a disaster if just anyone volunteered. That’s ok, identify those positions as “by invitation”. There is nothing more damaging than mystery around how decisions are made.

 Change Your Focus

Give your current volunteer team the tools to promote volunteering as a way for new members to meet their own goals at the involvement level that suits them. Small roles will fill the funnel for bigger positions, allowing you to hand pick candidates for larger roles based on seeing them in action. Flipping the volunteering pitch to what’s in it for the member releases you from begging, breaks up big jobs to ease the load on your board, and allows you to draw the more members closer to the center of your organization.