Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mission Driven Volunteer

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I was interviewed and my association is featured as one of the case studies in the new white paper--The Mission Driven Volunteer--from Mariner Management & Marketing and Spark Consulting. What is mission-driven volunteering? Well, according to the white paper itself...

It begins with a volunteer role and philosophical approach that draw their significance from the organization's mission rather than from a particular title or level in the committee structure. Mission-driven volunteer roles are built around what the association needs to accomplish, not what positions the association needs to fill.

It's a concept that strongly resonates with me. As the case study in the white paper shows, when it was time for me to create an organizational chart of our committees and task forces for a presentation I was writing, I really rebelled against the traditional chart with committees reporting up to the Board like employees reporting up to their boss. That seemed too "command and control" to me, and, importantly, inaccurate when it came to describing how my association functioned and how I wanted it to continue functioning. What I came up with instead was something my Board chair came to call "the paintball diagram."

It didn't hurt that in the first draft, what's now shown as colored circles were clip-art starbursts that looked a lot more like dollops of paint splattered against the wall.

But those aren't the circles that are key--the small ones that represent the different volunteer bodies within the organization. What's key are the large circles, the concentric ones that allow strategic communications to flow outward and volunteer engagement to flow inward. As the case study summarizes:

The center blue ring represents to Board and Board committees, which set the strategic vision of the association and allocate resources accordingly.

The next ring out, indicated in red, represents groups that are set up by the Board and include Board and non-Board volunteers, who take the strategic direction set by the Board and turn it into actionable goals with attached metrics.

The yellow ring represents the worker bees, consisting of both standing committees and ad hoc task forces. These groups engage members directly in performing the work of the association, and any member is invited to join just by raising his or her hand. [It is the] "incubator" of NFPA's future leaders.

Finally, the green ring includes groups that represent the specific interests of various membership constituencies across all programs, products, and services, ensuring that those association offerings meet the needs of the diverse groups who comprise the NFPA membership.

It's still not perfect, but it more accurately describes how the organization functions, and how we work to keep all of our volunteer activities align with the mission and strategic priorities of the association. One benefit I know the diagram has had is in prompting the right kind of conversations with leaders and volunteers within the organization. I've found that in describing the concentric circles and how they relate to one another, it opens up exactly the kind of conversation you'd like to have with an interested volunteer. What sort of contribution would you like to make and how can we nest it within the strategic objectives of the organization?

If you're interested in more, the white paper can be accessed here.

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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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