Monday, October 27, 2014

Yes. Really. Nights and Weekends.

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I teased this last week when I mentioned that I spent a portion of my weekend reviewing proposals for ASAE's Innovation Grant Program. It's one of my volunteer activities, I said, and... a lot of those functions, I had to find time away from my professional responsibilities in order to get them done. That might be a future blog post--as I'm convinced that many association staff don't comprehend that the work their volunteers do for their associations is done at night and on weekends.

So let me expand on that idea this week. If you work for an association, think about the people you work with (or, if you're brave enough, think about yourself). Do you ever hear people talking about how little their volunteers do? The volunteers come to Board or committee meetings unprepared, you might hear these people complain, or they miss conference calls entirely, and of course they don't read any of the emails we send them. It's like they don't take their volunteer responsibilities seriously. I mean, how are we going to get all this work done if our volunteers are only phoning it in?

Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you a story.

My first job in the association business was working for a medical specialty society. Like many of those societies, there were two kinds of doctors in this association. There were the academicians--the doctors who were full-time teachers, professors and/or researchers--and there were the clinicians--the doctors who practiced medicine, seeing and treating patients.

And which did the complainers in that association believe were the better volunteers? The academicians, of course, and they had a good case to make in support of that opinion. Academicians, after all, led almost all of the committees, they found their way onto the Board in far greater numbers, and were almost always elected by their peers (who showed up en masse at annual conferences and business meetings) as the association's president.

For a while, I agreed with the complainers. And then one day I had to set-up a conference call for the committee that monitored and addressed changes in medical coding requirements for this specialty (i.e., how clinicians get paid for providing services to Medicaid or Medicare patients). Unlike most other committees in the association this one was not only chaired by a clinician, it was comprised almost entirely of clinicians. After sending out the first poll of possible conference call times, the chair actually called me.

You need to poll for times after 5 PM, he told me. Seems I had only offered times that took place during my work day. Resend it for all the same days, the chair asked, but only list 6 PM, 7 PM, 8 PM or 9 PM as the possible times.

9 PM? I thought. Who would want to take a conference call at 9 o'clock at night? Certainly not me.

Eric, the chair told me knowingly. We're seeing patients all day. If we take an hour out of our working day, that's two less patients we see that day, and that costs us money.

It was a bit of an awakening for me--especially when contrasted with the world of the academicians, some of whom were actually compensated by their institutions according to the length of their CVs, and things like chairing association committees and serving on association boards certainly counted in those calculations.

The clinicians, in other words, were not less committed volunteers than the academicians. From a certain perspective, they were actually more committed, because participating in volunteer activities actually cost them money. They were fewer in number compared to the academicians because fewer of them were willing to do that, but those that were, were the most vocal champions that association had.

And they did all their volunteer work on nights and weekends. Yes. Really. Nights and weekends. And ever since, whenever I hear association staff people complaining about how little their volunteers seem to do, I can't help but wonder if those staff people would make the same kind of sacrifices their volunteers do.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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