Associations depends on volunteer members; their work is critical to its success. Imagine setting up a lemonade stand for your entire neighbourhood during the annual block party. You can probably do it on your own, but just think about how much easier it would be if you had some help? For instance, someone to make the recipe, someone to write the menu, someone to take orders, and someone to manage the long line would take a lot of weight off your shoulders. Having the helping hands of volunteer members from your association can be viewed in a similar fashion – tasks are distributed among individuals or groups to get the work done efficiently. Two (or more) hands are always better than one!
But who exactly are these individuals and groups? They are hardworking members of the association who take time out of their busy schedules to help grow and strengthen the association. That is why It is important that their roles and responsibilities are understood, recognized, and valued. [i]
Understanding How They Serve
Volunteers of an association can serve in several ways, with different levels of commitment. Your highest level of association volunteers is the Board of Directors. The board is made up of association members who have been nominated and elected by the membership. They meet consistently with a formalized agenda and meeting minutes. To learn more about the responsibilities of being a board member, visit my colleague’s blog here. On the board, you will find the Executive Committee. The members of the executive committee are officers of the board and can be comprised of, but not limited to, the President, Vice-President (or President-Elect), Past President, Treasurer or Secretary.
The board, with guidance from the executive committee, will have a lot on their plate with many tasks to accomplish. They cannot do this on their own. That is where Committees and Taskforces come in. Committees are longstanding groups who aim to accomplish and maintain goals within the strategic plan, such as professional development or marketing. Conversely, taskforces are often small groups, sometimes individual volunteer members. The board recruits these members to complete a time-sensitive task.
Recognizing Who They Are
Each volunteer contributes their own distinct skill to their role to complete the task at hand. Imagine if everyone helping at the lemonade stand had the same abilities but were all trying to complete different jobs that are not conducive to their skillset. You can’t only have volunteers who excel at taking orders; the lemonade probably won’t taste very good. To work as a well-oiled machine, each member will need to bring something different to the job. There are four main characteristics to recognize when working with volunteers:
- Shapers: motivate others and are excellent problem solvers
- Writers: create written content and have fine attention to detail
- Leaders: take leadership in projects and discussions and have ability to delegate
- Teachers: instruct others and possess great communication skills
Consider each of these essential qualities when rounding out the team and recruiting new volunteers.
Valuing Why They Choose to Volunteer
There are many different reasons why members would decide to volunteer for an association. You may be surprised to learn that it is very rarely for recognition. Volunteers don’t get involved with the intention of getting noticed, they are looking to make a difference. They have a genuine desire to help others and are eager to create a stronger association. They want to stay connected and involved in their profession. Because of this, their hard work and dedication should not go unnoticed. Make sure that volunteer members feel appreciated by valuing their efforts with gestures of affirmation.
Now that you have a better understanding about what being a volunteer member looks like, let’s take a step back and talk about volunteer recruitment. One of the most difficult tasks an association will face is the recruitment of volunteers. Effective communication is a critical component to capturing a member’s attention about the need for volunteers. Whether it’s an email to the entire membership or a direct request from a respected board member, the message must contain specific requirements and clearly state how to get in touch. For more on recruiting volunteers, specifically board members, read my colleague’s blog here.
Just as it takes lemons to make lemonade, associations depend on the help of their volunteers. Did you know that April 20 is Volunteer Recognition Day? Show your support and say “thank you” to the volunteers within your association. Pour them a glass of ice-cold lemonade and let them know you appreciate them!
[i] Consent was provided for use of the information from a module out of the Foundations in Association Management course presented by Lawrence Caniglia, JD, CAE, Strategic Advisor at Bloch-Reed Association Advisors.