Making volunteer engagement meaningful is crucial to many associations success and how they move towards their strategic goals.

Why people volunteer is one of the main questions organizations need to ask when engaging volunteers. Some volunteer because they are passionate about a subject or issue, some because they are asked by a friend or colleague, and others because they like getting involved and contributing to a worthy cause.

Associations have two main groups of volunteers. The first group and arguably the most important group are board volunteers. The board volunteers are responsible for the strategic direction of the association.  Training, orienting and evaluating board members is crucial to maximizing their potential as contributors on the board.  Volunteering for boards is not an everyday occurrence for most people so training and evaluating becomes a very powerful tool for engagement.

Associations rely heavily on standing committee members as the second group of volunteers. The committee volunteers perform the work required to achieve the goals of the association in conjunction with staff so engagement is very important. Defining the roles and responsibilities of committee work allows volunteers to focus their attention on what’s needed. Job descriptions and defining outcomes allows volunteers to focus their attention on the task and keep them engaged. When people have a clear sense of how their work fits into the association here is a sense of pride and people stay committed. The worst thing you can do is set up a committee and then give them nothing concrete to work on. You can easily lose people if they don’t have a sense of direction.

One of our clients has had great success engaging volunteers by setting up task forces (small group of specialized individuals that work on a specific task for a finite period of time).

In their case, the task force was created to develop a Standards of Practice document for their allied health profession. The project was headed up by a board volunteer who recruited the expertise needed to complete the standards document. Support for the volunteers was important providing them with the proper resources (staff & financial) to get the Standards of Practice published.   Once complete this group of volunteers was thanked publicly to the membership and the task force was formally dissolved. It brought a sense of closure and accomplishment to the group and reinforced the–pride they felt about their contribution.

Engagement is crucial to maintaining a thriving association. An added bonus to standing committee or task force volunteers is the pool of involved, knowledgeable people within the association that can be groomed to serve as future board leaders.

How do you get the engagement happening in your association? The first step is to make sure you have the proper elements in place to foster it. Do you have the roles and responsibilities of the volunteers clearly outlined? Do you have the resources in place to support the volunteers? Do you have a mechanism in place that allows you to thank the volunteers for their contributions?

Answering these questions positively will help your association create and sustain meaningful volunteer engagement.