Chapters run on a special fuel: volunteer energy. But sometimes that fuel runs low and it’s difficult to attract chapter volunteers. We’ve identified eight valid and understandable reasons why chapter members don’t volunteer plus several solutions for overcoming those obstacles.
#1: Chapter volunteering doesn’t fit into their busy lives.
Chapter members are not able or willing to commit to the amount of time required by traditional volunteer positions. Their plate is already full. Older members are busy with work.
Or, they’re pulling back from professional responsibilities and shifting their focus elsewhere. While younger members are becoming parents and have no time to spare.
Microvolunteering (ad hoc or episodic) volunteering is the solution for members with busy lifestyles.
They can contribute their talents and experience to their chapter without having to commit the time and energy usually required for committee service.
Microvolunteering is also a stepping-stone to deeper involvement. Examples of microvolunteering jobs include:
- Helping at events: greet attendees, work at the registration desk, or take photos or videos.
- Welcoming new members, learn more about them, and answer questions.
- Checking in with first-year members to provide advice and get feedback.
- Editing, proofing, or providing feedback on articles or other content.
- Taking notes and/or write a recap of a session or webinar.
- Responding to calls-to-action on pending legislation.
#2: The chapter leadership “job” is too big, period.
They may have a point. If members see stressed out chapter leaders working themselves to the bone, they will be scared off. Few members are willing to step up into burdensome leadership positions. You’ll end up recycling past leaders or seeing positions go empty. Any surviving leaders will have too much on their plates.
Take a hard look at your chapter leadership culture. Do you reward the wrong behavior? Do you praise and reward superhero members who single-handedly manage chapters—and burn themselves out in the process?
Superhero volunteers are not leaders. Leaders prioritize, delegate, and direct. These superhero members are merely doers. In effect, these martyr-like leaders hog all the work and glory to themselves, and deprive other members of opportunities to contribute—a member benefit they deserve.
You can help chapter leaders manage responsibilities by:
Recruitment: Teaching them how to recruit helpers and delegate tasks. Asking for help isn’t a sign of slacking or weakness, it’s the mark of a leader who provides opportunities for others to pitch in and make a difference.
Qualifications: Helping them learn how to identify qualified volunteers and “sell” the benefits of deeper involvement.
Automation: Giving them tools to automate and streamline chapter administration. Billhighway software has saved many chapter leaders from stress and burnout—and given their National colleagues some much needed data and peace of mind.
Collaboration: Showing them ways to collaborate with fellow chapter members and leaders from other chapters.
Restructure the chapter leadership org chart. Split up responsibilities so the “burden” of leadership is spread among more members.
#3: Chapter volunteering is unappealing.
Sometimes, chapter tasks don’t get done on time or get done ever because no one wants to do them. Some members won’t even consider a leadership position because of the administrative work required.
When chapter officers have too many administrative tasks—adjusting the ledger, reconciling payments, and putting together reports for National—they have less time and energy to focus on delivering membership value.
Wondering why some committees have such high turnover? Think about a typical task for a membership committee volunteer. The committee chair asks them to call 15 members who haven’t renewed—by next week’s meeting. Who wants to do that? How about calling one or two members instead, an enjoyable microvolunteering task.
Most people, especially Millennials, want a meaningful volunteer experience, not brain-deadening busywork. They want to make a difference, maybe learn something, and connect with other people in their professional community. They’re happy to join others for an envelope-stuffing session as long as they can spend most of their volunteer time on more meaningful and satisfying work.
Here are 3 possible solutions:
- Position Descriptions: Review and revamp committee chair and member position descriptions.
- Volunteer Tasks: Inventory all possible volunteer tasks. Identify and publicize microvolunteering opportunities.
- Volunteer Profiles: Collect volunteer profiles from members upon joining and renewing. Tag their experience, skills, and interests so you can search profiles for qualified volunteers when jobs become available or tasks need doing.
#4: Chapter volunteering doesn’t provide enough ROI.
Members might have time to volunteer, but they don’t think the experience is worth their time. They don’t think volunteering will help them reach goals, advance in their career, or help them develop relationships with other members.
Or, the member is willing but their boss doesn’t give them time off to volunteer because they don’t see any benefit in doing so.
Share Volunteer Benefits on Your Website
On your website, describe how volunteering benefits the member and their employer. Explain how it can help someone excel at work and advance their career by giving them the opportunity to learn skills, deepen industry knowledge, meet peers and mentors, and participate in industry-relevant leadership training.
Collect Leadership Testimonials
Collect testimonials that illustrate how chapter leadership can accelerate careers and benefit a business.
#5: Members don’t want to take on something they’ll regret.
People are uneasy about stepping into the unknown, especially if they aren’t sure what to expect or what is expected of them. If they’re uncertain about the consequences of serving on a committee, they’re unlikely to commit to it.
- Use your website to teach members about chapter governance and leadership opportunities. Describe the nomination and/or appointment process, leadership positions, meeting and travel requirements, and time commitment. Find out what people don’t know and answer those questions.
- Post videos of current and past leaders talking about their leadership experience. What misperceptions did they have about the position at first? How have they been pleasantly surprised by their experience? How has it benefitted them personally and professionally?
- Hold “Meet Your Chapter Leaders” sessions before an event where members can ask questions about volunteer opportunities.
- Host an online discussion group where members can ask questions about governance, nomination and/or appointment processes, and life as a leader.
- Offer plenty of ways for members to get a taste of volunteering. Besides microvolunteering, try task forces and project teams.
#6: Chapter volunteering isn’t even on their radar.
ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer study found that a personal invitation is the most effective way to recruit a volunteer. Some people can be a member for years and never get asked to do anything. They don’t know the people who do the asking so they’re out of the loop.
- Expand your list of “usual suspects” by publicizing microvolunteering opportunities on your website and in newsletters.
- Start an Ambassador program. Volunteers contact members who aren’t active, seek them out at events, get to know them, and introduce them to other members.
- Build a collection of volunteer profiles so you can make a personal ask to someone who’s the right match for a volunteer job.
#7: Members aren’t impressed by the current group of chapter leaders.
What do members see when they look at chapter leaders? Do they want to spend time with them or be associated with them?
Chapter leadership can fall into a vicious cycle. When leadership positions are poorly structured and volunteer recruitment is lackluster, the members who sign up for leadership are often desperate to make a name for themselves or willing to sacrifice their free time for the chapter.
You end up with mediocre incumbents who don’t inspire fellow members. Or, you get superhero leaders who scare off qualified candidates.
Here are 3 possible solutions:
- Revamp leadership positions so they’re not as arduous.
- Build a leadership bench of more qualified candidates—the topic of our next post.
- Get to the place where you can be pickier about who serves so you have more options.
#8: Members think chapter volunteering isn’t for someone like them.
If a member doesn’t see anyone like themselves in a leadership position—no one of the same generation, gender, ethnicity, or business type—it’s possible they won’t feel welcomed to participate in leadership.
This exclusivity issue is also known as the “country club syndrome” or “old boys club.” Members on the outside looking in think: Everyone knows each other. They’re all friends. I don’t know anyone. I don’t belong in that group.
- Get leadership and governance out of the shadows. Make it more understandable and transparent. Many professionals, especially younger ones, are used to participating in collaborative networks where information is shared freely. From where they sit, they don’t understand the inner workings of your organization. When they see leadership operating on a need-to-know basis only and can’t figure out how to contribute, they become frustrated and give up on volunteering—and maybe on your chapter too.
- Share with members the direction your association and chapter is heading, the issues the board and committees are addressing, and the projects they’re working on.
- Make leadership more inclusive by actively scouting and recruiting potential chapter leaders.
In the next post of this series on chapter volunteering, we’ll describe several ways to build your chapter leadership pipeline.