Responding to Challenges in Volunteer Management

March 25, 2009 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

reno-windowLast week I had the wonderful opportunity to co-present a program for Association Forum entitled, Essentials of Volunteer Management, with Monica Love from AMTA.  To our participants reading this post, thank you again for your valuable participation.

First off, let us all celebrate the motivation and contributions of volunteer association leaders across the country and all over the world.  We are able to enjoy our rewarding careers in association management mainly because volunteer leaders have stepped forward throughout time to form… well… associations.

At the onset of our session, Monica and I recorded a number of questions from our audience of professionals pertaining to particular volunteer-related challenges they were facing in their own organization.  Judging from the questions, I think by some stroke of irony we may all work for the same association.  In reality, none of us are alone when it comes to these familiar challenges.

To mine and Monica’s astonishment, the dialogue was so wonderful that we actually ran out of time after the 3-hour session.  Nonetheless, I promised our attendees that I would address some of the questions here on Association 2020.  So, without further ado:

Q1:  What do you do with a volunteer who won’t let go?

First, we should all be thankful to a certain degree for the volunteer who won’t let go.  The challenge arises when volunteers attempt to dominate a particular role leaving little opportunity for new volunteers.

From a policy standpoint, I have to say that after years in both politics and association work, I am a strong believer in term limits.  When I say “term limits” that should not be construed to mean “term breaks”.  Once a volunteer leader has reached the limit of her term, she should move on to other opportunities to serve the organization rather than recycle back after time.  To realize the full impact and benefit of volunteer engagement, we must afford as many opportunities as possible for members, and even non-members, to become involved.

So what happens when a volunteer reaches their term limit?  Work to identify the individual volunteer’s core strengths/interest and find another area of the association which will be mutually beneficial to both parties.  Remember, volunteers are not simply volunteers, they are loyal promoters and ambassadors of your association… they are attendees at your conferences.  To many, volunteering is a valuable member benefit, after all it is their association.  The more connected volunteers feel, the greater their association evangelism.  If necessary, identify a need and create new roles for your veteran volunteers.

Q2:  How do you overcome disruptions in organizational continuity during leadership transitions?

Be proactive.  If you approach your leadership about updating your strategic plan and they tell you its not necessary because it was just update five years ago you have two options.  Option 1, polish your resume and run for the hills.  Option 2, the preferred option, is seek to understand your leaders perspectives regarding strategic planning as well as points of shared vision within their group.

A multi-year approach to strategic planning should be a regular ongoing function of association boards and staff.  A commitment to a comprehensive strategic planning process will enable your association to:

  • Be objective in identifying the present and future needs of members and their profession/trade on a regular basis.
  • Factor environmental/industry trends and developments into the decision-making process.
  • Create alignment between governance and operations.
  • and, yes, instill a sense of institutional continuity between years and leadership transitions.

Beyond strategic planning, create a comprehensive leadership ladder which invests incoming leaders early on in the business of the association.  The usual succession consists of a “Vice-…” or a “….-elect” or perhaps even a year as secretary/treasurer.  But why not create additional levels of executive leadership or by-law requirements for certain areas of service in the overall qualifications for office.  Wouldn’t it be terrific to have top leaders who had served as volunteer leaders over the core areas of your association’s business, such as conference chair, education chair, membership chair, etc.? 

. . . . . . .

Stay tuned!  I will be responding to more questions in the near future.  In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and ideas via a comment below.  SM        


Entry filed under: Managing Change, Organizational Management, participation, people, Volunteer Strategy. Tags: , , , , , .

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