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 sixth 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
#5: Don't Waste a Volunteer's Time
As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments as we go along.
+ + +
Member Engagement Solution #6: Provide Structure, But Not Too Much
Increasingly, associations are finding that members want to direct their own volunteer efforts. They want to engage, they want to develop their own skills, they want to help the association advance. What they don’t want is to be micromanaged with a lot of association-specific rules and regulations. Some structure is necessary to easily on-board interested volunteers, primarily to define the job to be done and the resources that are available to them. But then learn how to step out of the way and let the volunteer create their own pathway to success.
My own association is finding success with this strategy with regard to one key constituency everyone seems to be talking about these days--the next generation of volunteer leaders. A few years ago we looked around and realized that our pipeline of potential Board members was running dry. We knew we had to reach out and better engage with the younger generation, but weren't really sure how. As an experiment we created something we called the Future Leaders Network--a new networking community within the association that had only two requirements for membership. You had to be 45 years old or less and you had to self identify as someone who was or aspired to be a leader.
We seeded the community by asking the members of our Board to identify young people in their own organizations who they felt had a future in their own organizations and in the industry. We sent a message out to the membership and invited more people in. Everyone who responded was brought together for a networking event at our next Annual Conference. Once there, we described to them what the association was trying to achieve and what resources we were making available to them.
And then we got out of their way.
They started slow. They immediately appreciated the opportunity to connect with people not too unlike themselves at our meetings and conferences. They told us they would like to have their own social event where they could share new experiences and get to know each other better. We complied. They told us they would like to have some of the leaders of our industry come to and talk to them about leadership. We complied. They told us they would like to have opportunities to present on topics of interest to them at our conferences. We complied.
In a few short years what started as an uncertain group of 10 or 15 grew into a strong and vibrant community of 50 or 60. And once that had happened, they asked for something else. They asked to get engaged in leadership positions in the association. They wanted to create their own task forces aligned with our strategic priorities. They wanted to chair some of our program committees. They wanted to serve on the Board.
Guess what we did. We complied.
It's been phenomenal. And I know at least part of this success is due to the fact that we didn't put too much structure on this young and talented group of individuals. Some early voices wanted to create a structure for them, to dictate what was expected of them. But I refused. I knew that they were the kind of people who would want to define success on their own terms, and I saw our association gaining tremendous advantage by letting them do exactly that.