How to Start Building the Chapter Volunteer Learning Journey for Your Association and Chapters

The volunteer learning journey lifts and inspires members, and alleviates the stress of chapter leaders and staff who are constantly worrying about the leadership pipeline. It provides a framework for training members and developing their skills so they’re prepared to take the next step in their volunteer and leadership journey.
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Members need a break—that’s what we’re hearing from component relations professionals (CRPs) and association staff who work with volunteers. Volunteers are feeling tired and fragile. The past year has worn them out. Chapter leaders are nervously looking around for members to take their place. Are these short-term issues that will work themselves out somehow? Or do chapters and associations need a more sustainable, mutually beneficial volunteering model?

Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE, of Mariner Management, and Kristine Metter, MS, CAE, of Crystal Lake Partners, say it’s the latter, which is why we’ve been talking in this blog post series about a volunteer management model they’re working on together. They recommend identifying a member’s motivations and aspirations, and matching them with an appropriate role in the volunteer pathway. Give volunteers the opportunity to develop the competencies they need for the task at hand but also provide the training and development that will prepare them for roles in the next level of the volunteer pathway.

In previous posts, we described the volunteer pathway and the importance of understanding volunteer motivations. We introduced the volunteer competencies matrix and the two types of education to offer during the volunteer learning journey. We explained how volunteer scenarios and training gap analysis can help you identify the type of content you need to develop and offer to prepare members for volunteering and leadership.

You may not have the bandwidth or resources to implement all the pieces we’ve discussed—that’s okay. Pick a few volunteer roles to start and build out a competencies matrix and learning journey for them. This learning journey framework will help you provide volunteer experiences that fulfill a member’s motivations and training that helps them develop the skills they need to take the next step in their volunteer or leadership journey.

Starting a member out on the chapter volunteer learning journey

Peggy and Kristine recommend taking a learner-centric approach to the volunteer journey. Don’t just say, “This is what you need to learn.” Instead, make it all transparent so they can see and choose what they need to learn.

Post the volunteer pathway and competencies matrix on your website or member portal. These visual tools educate members about the skills needed for success in different volunteer roles. They can start imagining the possibilities as they see the training and development opportunities available to them if they wish to progress along the volunteer pathway.

 

[Volunteers] can start imagining the possibilities as they see the training and development opportunities available to them.

 

Appeal to a member’s intrinsic motivation. This learning journey is self-directed. They’re in control of their destiny as they gain mastery of the competencies required to advance.

The member may know exactly what they want or may have some sense of it. With the help of visual tools like the volunteer pathway and competencies matrix, staff and chapter leaders can help the member see their way forward and see what they need to do and learn along the way.

Another useful tool is a volunteer self-assessment tool, such as the one developed by AHIMA, American Health Information Management Association. Offer a self-assessment at the beginning of a volunteer journey or whenever a member returns to volunteering. A self-assessment is an exercise in self-awareness—an opportunity to reflect on motivations and aspirations, the real reason they’re volunteering. It includes guiding questions the member tackles on their own or during an interview with staff or a member who’s been trained as a volunteer advisor. You can strongly suggest or encourage this self-assessment as part of volunteer recruitment, orientation, or onboarding.

Your association’s next steps in building a volunteer learning journey

The mind is willing, but is your association? In their Creating Association ROI Through Volunteer Training toolkit, Peggy and Kristine explain how to determine your association’s readiness level for developing a volunteer learning journey.

First, take a hard look at your association’s volunteer strategy—the organizational mindset on volunteers.

  • To what extent does staff understand the importance of volunteers to your association?
  • Is there a willingness to invest in volunteers?
  • To what extent do you work with volunteers as continuous learners?
  • Are you open to acknowledging there are many volunteer pathways through your organization?

Consider whether the status quo is sustainable. Recognize issues for what they are—often symptoms of undiagnosed problems. Here’s a common one in associations and chapters: board members don’t have a strategic mindset. If board members don’t already have a strategic mindset when they show up for board orientation, then you have a problem. The remedy by now is obvious: a volunteer learning journey that prepares them with the skills and knowledge they need for board service.

You may want to design a volunteer learning journey, but what about your colleagues? This effort will gain more traction if CRPs have the cooperation of other departments, such as education/professional development, membership, and governance. The impact of the volunteer learning journey will be felt throughout the organization: more members developing the learning habit, more member engagement and retention, and more volunteers in the leadership pipeline.

  • To what extent can each department contribute essential skills and perspectives in developing your volunteer learning modules?
  • Are other departments working on their own training and development modules? Can you collaborate?

For example, if your association offers a leadership development program to members or to the market, see if you can pull elements of that program into the volunteer learning journey.

Finally, perhaps the biggest hurdle: capacity and bandwidth. Don’t try to do it all at once. Pick and choose the pieces you can handle now given your resources and priorities—perhaps a few volunteer roles to start. For now, you can purchase licenses to leadership development training from external sources, like LinkedIn Learning or Mindtools, or outsource to experienced association and/or chapter leadership trainers like Mariner Management and Crystal Lake Partners.

The volunteer learning journey lifts and inspires members, and alleviates the stress of chapter leaders and staff who are constantly worrying about the leadership pipeline. It provides a framework for training members and developing their skills so they’re prepared to take the next step in their volunteer and leadership journey.

Learn more about the components of the volunteer learning model in the toolkit put together by Peggy and Kristine. You can also watch the recording from our webinar, Let’s Reboot Volunteer Training.

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