Mobilizing Volunteers

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Recruiting and Retaining the Best Volunteers
ACBS Chapters quickly learn that without an active and engaged membership, it is hard to realize the Chapter’s mission, gain credibility in the community, or grow. In other words, having members is only the beginning; you must then work to get even a handful of those individuals to roll up their sleeves and get involved in specific Chapter activities. And without volunteers to take on the tasks involved with getting events, campaigns, and other types of activities off the ground, the Chapter will find it hard to thrive.

You don’t have to look far to find Chapters that have developed winning strategies for getting members and others to spring into action. Just ask the Australia & New Zealand Chapter. 

In all of these examples, the Chapter was able to inspire its members, making it easier to engage members in the Chapter’s work. Here are more resources to help you get members involved.

What Drives Members to Volunteer - Research about association volunteering conducted by the ASAE Foundation for Advancing Association and Nonprofit Leadership in the Decision To Volunteer, offers good insight and data on what drives – and stops – members from volunteering.

Why Members Begin Volunteering? Top Reasons:

  • Meaningful opportunity – a chance to make a difference for others.
  • Right skills – volunteers want to be successful and if they believe they can “do” the job they are more willing to say yes.
  • Accessible location – volunteers are often constrained by time and less likely to say yes if getting to the task adds time or frustration.
  • No loss of income (doesn’t cost me!) – yes, volunteers weigh the cost of helping not just in time but in add-on costs like parking, transportation, child care, and so forth.
  • Short-term assignment – volunteers are usually busy people and so prefer a time-constrained job.

What Stops Members? Top reasons members don’t volunteer:

  • Never asked to volunteer! This was the #1 reason cited; most do not consider blanket requests for volunteers as being asked.
  • Lack of information about volunteer opportunities in general.
  • Lack of information about virtual (not on-site) volunteering & about short-term assignments.
  • Lack of follow through – this covers both the response to an interest and in the response to giving members what they need to clearly understand the volunteer role.
  • Inadequate expense reimbursement.
  • Work not meaningful.

How To Build Your Volunteer Pool
Step 1: Engage members in your Chapter.
Begin by asking members why they are involved in the community and what they want to get out of being a member. Ask what type of skill sets the member would like to develop and in what types of activities they enjoy be involved. With this information, figure out the best way to get the member to feel connected to your Chapter.

Step 2: Create a Volunteer Map
In order to recruit volunteers, you need to know what roles and tasks you need handled. Take a look at the programs you’ve planned for the year and begin by identifying the roles and then for each spell out what you need specifically. Include the task or project goal, the schedule for completion with the deadline, an estimate of the amount of time the volunteer will need to give, and a quick look at the skills or experience needed. If you have resources for the position (budget, tools, mentor), note that too. Here are some examples:

Program Chair – Working with the Education Committee, design and implement the educational programming schedule for one year. The goal is one activity (virtual or face-to-face) per quarter. The job will be evaluated based on meeting attendee and financial goals as well drawing a satisfactory attendee evaluation. Time commitment averages 8-12 hours per month. Attendance at the kick-off team orientation (generally a half-day meeting) and participation in quarterly board calls required. You will have access to past programming activities records. Programs include:

  • Education
  • Networking

Recruit team members to help with development and coordination of these programs.

  • Registrar/Event Greeter – Welcome attendees to the event and sign them in – a great way to network! Time commitment is approximately 1.5 hours (based on arriving 30 minutes before event start and continuing through the initial start of the program.) Also required is a brief 30 minute orientation before the first event at which you are a registrar/greeter. You will receive an FAQ sheet on the event and typical questions in advance, and have access to experienced volunteers at the event.
  • Facilities Scout – Work with the Education Committee to identify locations for Chapter events. Time commitment is a 3-5 hours per event (may call for a site visit). Confirm the focus and goals of the event with the committee then review local venues, including co-hosting options with Universities or related associations.
  • Master of Ceremonies – Welcome the audience, introduce the presenter and, if appropriate, moderate the Q&A. Time commitment is the length of the event plus a half hour or so to prepare (review agenda, presenter bio, etc.).
  • Evaluation Monitor – Compile those post-event evaluations and share back to the planning team.
  • Article writer – Write, or curate, short articles for the Chapter newsletter and website that help share information, educate or enlighten members. This might include an explanation of re-cap of a presentation, blog regarding a current issue, etc.. Need to have strong writing skills and appropriate expertise in the chosen subject. Time commitment is a couple of hours per submission (based on your own speed of writing). The deadline is the 1st day of the month. You will have access to a past writer who can provide ideas and feedback.

These are just a few examples. Click here for more from other chapters and use your imagination!

Be sure to build microvolunteering options into your volunteer program. Microvolunteering is a term used in nonprofits to refer to volunteering that is done either online via an internet-connected device, including smartphones, or offline in small increments of time. According to the ASAE Foundation study noted above, lack of short term and virtual opportunities were two of the most-often cited reasons for not volunteering. Interestingly, while members are less willing to take on a year-long commitment, they are still signing up for short-term, small jobs. Plus, these smaller opportunities pave the way for taking on greater responsibilities.

Step 3: Promote volunteering.
It is amazing how many members don’t know the role of volunteers or the importance of volunteers to RAPS, much less what volunteering opportunities exist. Make a goal for your Chapter to get the word out to all members that volunteering is fun and fulfilling, and very much an important component of meeting RAPS’s mission.
Here are a couple of ways to spread the word:

  • Profile volunteers in your newsletter or on your website. Make a habit of highlighting a volunteer each week or month. Be thoughtful in whom you profile; to get new volunteers, profile your newer volunteers and volunteers currently serving in micro-volunteering or simple projects.
  • Set-up a discussion or section in a newsletter to highlight volunteering in your group. In this area, post the traditional tasks and positions you have in your group. Throughout the year, post updates on available positions, highlight when jobs or projects are completed, thank volunteers, and ask for ideas and feedback.
  • At every meeting (virtual or face-to-face) take time to publicly thank volunteers and to share any volunteer openings. Take care, though, to make sure this does not sound like a desperate plea, but as an upbeat announcement. Think of it as if you were announcing a really good paying job!

Step 4: Recognize, Reward and Listen to volunteers.
Volunteers continue to serve and bring in new volunteers when they feel satisfied, connected and valued. There are three sure-fire ways to meet your volunteer’s needs.

  • Institute a regular pattern of recognition. Never wait to tell a volunteer they are appreciated or to notice the work they’ve done. Read more on recognition.
  • Reward appropriately. This is the trickiest thing for many volunteer-run groups who too often reward volunteers who didn’t get the job done. The message is loud and clear to the other volunteers – success doesn’t matter. Read more on rewards.
  • Listen to volunteers. Give them your time, your ear and your consideration. Consider a simple survey to volunteers at the end of a term or project. Take the time to ask volunteers personally how the job is going.

Rewards & Recognition
Recognize effort, reward outcomes and success.

That advice will guide you in developing a Rewards & Recognition (R&R) program that will benefit your Chapter. We need effective R&R programs to help retain volunteers, recruit new volunteers, motivate volunteers to perform effectively and support organizational goals. Providing appropriate R&R assures volunteers feel satisfied, connected and valued.
Recognition – Should begin as soon as volunteers sign up and continue throughout. It should be genuine, immediate, relevant, authentic and sincere. Strive for a balance of informal and formal recognition. Formal encompasses awards, certificates, dinners and gifts. Informal can, in some cases, be more effective because it’s spontaneous and generally personal. Examples include a personal note or email, a shout-out on Twitter or Facebook, or an unexpected Starbucks gift card.

Rewards – Should occur at specific points in time, such as the conclusion of an activity or the accomplishment of a goal. They are best if they reflect the effort and time contributed by providing a token or gift of value to the member. Rewards may include discounts to events, reward credits that are redeemable for registrations or purchases, decal clothing or accessories (a shirt with the Chapter name) or creative gifts.

Looking for more ideas on rewards and recognition? Visit, a site for volunteer leaders and managers.

Fast Facts To Know
Nearly 60% of all association volunteers are ad-hoc volunteers. Ad-hoc volunteers are volunteers who hold short-term, episodic, or occasional roles. This includes event greeter, event photographer, contributor to your newsletter or blog, speaker contact, workshop facilitator, social media voice (e.g., handles your Twitter or Facebook), discussion starter, document reviewer, and single day of service projects.

The “Direct Ask” has the power. It is the number one way volunteers reported getting recruited and the lack of a direct ask was noted as one of the top reasons for not volunteering.

Meetings and conferences are the best places to recruit volunteers. Volunteers cited this almost as often as the direct ask.

Members see professional benefits in volunteering. In the ASAE survey, two-thirds said they look for opportunities to connect volunteering to their professional work!

Volunteer Responsibilities and Job Descriptions ??
Survey of Member/Volunteer Interests ??