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.
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.
Examples of microvolunteering jobs include:
Microvolunteering is also a stepping-stone to deeper involvement.
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:
Restructure the chapter leadership org chart. Split up responsibilities so the “burden” of leadership is spread among more members.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
In the next post of this series on chapter volunteering, we’ll describe several ways to build your chapter leadership pipeline.