I've previously posted on some of the member engagement issues people in the Circle are wrestling with. Now, I'm sharing a some of the solutions the group is coming forward with--strategies that have been demonstrated to work in at least one association environment. This is the fifth post in that series. Previous posts include:
#1: Don't Forget the Fun
#2: Recruit with a One-to-One Philosophy
#3: Recognize Volunteer Contributions
#4: Manage Volunteer Transitions
As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.
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Member Engagement Solution #5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
Association members are under increasing time crunches like everyone else. Since less time is available for association work, it is essential for the association to make the volunteer interaction as productive and as valuable as possible.
Nothing is worse than wasting a volunteer's time. I know. I've been the volunteer whose time was being wasted, and I can't think of anything that more assuredly disengages me than when I realizes my time is being wasted. But I've also been the association staffer who inadvertently or accidentally wastes a volunteer's time. And when that reality is exposed--often in public during a committee meeting--it can be one of the most professionally uncomfortable situations of your career.
So why does it happen? Despite the best of intentions on both sides, more frequently than we would ever want to admit, a volunteer's engagement and effort goes to naught, or is wasted on some bureaucratic piece of trivia that does injustice to both the professional ambitions of the volunteer and the strategic aspirations of the association.
I would argue that time winds up getting wasted when the following three things aren't spelled out in advance.
1. The Goal. Ultimately, what is the objective we're seeking to achieve with this volunteer engagement? Is it big picture strategy, mid-range program development, or short-term task? Don't let your volunteer think it's one when it's actually another. That will just lead to disappointment and confusion. And, whatever the goal is, give volunteers a chance to bow out, if they're not willing to work towards it.
2. The Roles. Who is responsible for doing the organizational work associated with the volunteer task? Another way of addressing this is to clarify how much staff support will be available. Some volunteers like to roll up the sleeves and do everything themselves. Other prefer logistics to be coordinated by staff. Others wants to do it all themselves, but frankly don't have the time. All three scenarios can work, but only if it is understood from the beginning what the volunteer will do and what the staff member will do.
3. The Benefit. Why does it matter? Not for the association (that's covered in "The Goal"), but for the volunteer himself. What is he expecting to get out of the assignment, and does that match with what the association is expecting and able to provide? Many volunteers are looking for professional development opportunities, and a volunteer assignment for their professional association can often fit that bill. But sometimes a volunteer is looking for something different. For a chance to teach, or promote himself, or to widen his circle of influence. These are not necessarily bad benefits for associations to be offering their volunteers, but it is critical to clarify up front what the expectations on both sides of the aisle are in this regard.
When a volunteer wants to offer his time, no one wants to see it go to waste. Talking openly about these three things before he gets started can help greatly minimize that chance.