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Making Life Easier for Your Association Volunteers

"Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job." - Admiral Arleigh A. Burke

Volunteers are the backbone of many associations.  In many cases volunteers are also members, and they are there to help the organization so it in turn can best help them.  But as an association leader, what can you do to make sure they are best positioned to help your organization succeed?

Understand their motivation.  In her book Visionary Leadership in Volunteer Programs, renown volunteering expert Marlene Wilson explains that the motivation for volunteering is different with each person, but in general people can be grouped by three types:

  • Achievers
    • driven by seeing immediate results
  • Power People
    • interested in the longer term impact of work being done
  • Affiliators
    • concerned with making connections and with the community

As you work with individual volunteers, try to understand which of these types they are and tailor their work within the association accordingly.  If you don't have a chance to read Wilson's book, About.com has a good summary including ideas about how best to do this.

Understand their interests.  Different people have different things they are comfortable or uncomfortable with doing in a volunteer situation.  For example, for me when I am volunteering, I tend not to like to deal with money.  It's not because I'm not capable of doing it, but I just something I'm not particularly comfortable with, particularly if it's money that's come from donations or the like.  On the other hand I tend to be quite comfortable with things like logistics and scheduling, so I usually gravitate toward those kinds of tasks.  If you can identify the things your volunteers do and don't like to do, you'll be better able to get the most out of them.

Understand their pain.  Systems are supposed to help us, but I'm always surprised to see how often they can create more problems than they fix.  Software is a great example of this.  If it's difficult to update your website, it's less likely to get done, particularly if there's a volunteer who's job it is to do it.  Upgrading your association website software is just one way you might improve life for your volunteers.  Look at other systems that volunteers deals with and think about ways your can improve them.

Say thank-you.  It may be obvious to many but it is certainly overlooked by some.  Whether it's with a party, a short note or a just a literal pat on the back, make sure people know their work is appreciated.  In many cases, it will mean as much to them as any payment could.

Originally posted by Jay Moonah

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