It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Attract & Retain Chapter Volunteers

I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, so I’ll just come right out and say it: chapter leaders are sort of miraculous. I can’t imagine running a chapter in my spare time. Yet, year after year, chapter volunteers take on this immense responsibility.

Finding and keeping competent and passionate leaders is a constant challenge for chapters and associations. First, you must recruit a steady stream of volunteers and then hope some of them will be interested in taking on a leadership role.

At Association Component Exchange (CEX), Peggy Hoffman, co-founder and president of Mariner Management & Marketing, shared her advice for attracting chapter volunteers and building a leadership pipeline.


6 Barriers to Attracting & Keeping Chapter Volunteers

Know what you’re up against. When planning a strategy for recruiting volunteers, you must understand why members don’t volunteer.


You’ve heard it before: if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. But busy members might already be too busy for you. Did you know volunteers contribute to an average of 2.3 organizations at the same time? Do members have time for you?

Early- and mid-career members already have full schedules with social and family obligations. Even if they want to volunteer, many can’t get time off from work.

Others are weighing the pay-off. What will they get out of volunteering? Is it worth disrupting their already shaky work/life balance?


Some members want to volunteer or serve in a leadership role, but they don’t see any way in. It looks like you have to know and hang out with the right people. No one’s asked if they’d like to step up their involvement. They’re not even sure how leadership works in the chapter.


Some members put in time over the years helping with projects and committees but never consider a position of more responsibility. They don’t have a leadership role at work, so they don’t think they’re qualified to take on that role at the chapter.


Peggy told a story about three early-career members at a chapter meeting who were texting each other about how boring the meeting was. Volunteers won’t return if you waste their time.


Volunteers need and deserve training and resources if you expect them to stick around and succeed.


Chapters don’t speak in the volunteer’s WIIFM (what’s in it for me) terms. Describe the benefits of volunteering in general and volunteering for a particular role. What will they learn? How will it change them? What will they feel?

Get Chapters Talking & Thinking Differently About Volunteering

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a major time-suck. If chapters embrace microvolunteering, more members will be able and willing to volunteer. Microvolunteering or ad hoc volunteering involves tasks that require only a brief amount of time and no long-term commitment. It’s volunteering for today’s busy lifestyle.

Chapters must stop thinking only about filling committees and start thinking about delegating chapter tasks to a wider pool of members. Stop hoarding opportunities to contribute and start sharing the benefits of volunteering with more members.

The first step is to identify micro jobs—a cross-departmental and cross-committee effort at your association and chapters. Post those opportunities on the chapter and/or association’s website, member portal, or online community.


Equip Volunteers With What They Need to Succeed

You can help chapters train volunteers by creating guides and training modules for common chapter volunteer jobs. Give chapters access to your learning management system for volunteer training and document storage. Teach leadership skills to volunteer leaders, for example, running effective meetings and delegation.

At the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), they host “just-in-time” webinars since chapter leaders tend to do particular tasks at the same time each year. By strategically scheduling webinars on particular topics—like event planning, implementation, and promotion—just before chapters need them, NATP reduced the number of incoming chapter calls and emails. Use a webinar platform that allows Q&A and record sessions for your chapter leader website.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) developed toolkits and training videos that help volunteers with marketing and communications, business, legal, and financial issues, event planning, and more.


How You Can Personally Help Chapter Leaders Recruit Volunteers

Besides showing chapters how to improve their volunteer recruitment and retention efforts, you can personally help chapters too.

  1. Ask a National board or committee member who’s completing their term to consider serving at the chapter level.
  2. Keep a list of chapter volunteer opportunities to refer to members.
  3. Consider adding ‘chapter volunteer service’ to your CE requirements.
  4. Ask National leaders to recruit co-workers or other colleagues for chapter volunteering or leadership.
  5. Make a personal introduction of a chapter leader to a potential future leader.

NIGP’s New, Holistic Approach to Leadership Development

One of the benefits of volunteering is developing leadership skills. Now, we’ll show how NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement developed a leadership training pathway for all levels of volunteers.

At the Association Component Exchange last year, Rick Grimm, Chief Executive Officer of NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement, introduced us to a success story in progress. NIGP has taken a new, holistic approach to leadership development and launched a few different leadership training programs.


Why NIGP Takes a Holistic Approach to Leadership Training – And You Should Too

Rick encouraged CEX attendees to think holistically because the work you do as CRPs impacts your members’ industry. Association and chapter programs affect workforce development, workforce retention, and leadership succession planning in companies and in your association and chapters too.

The impetus for NIGP’s new leadership training programs came out of discussions about challenges their members’ profession—public sector procurement—is facing:

  • An undefined career path—like the association management profession, people tend to fall into government procurement jobs. Is it the same for your association? Or, do higher ed institutions prepare professionals in your industry?
  • Retirement exodus and leadership continuity—a challenge not unique to NIGP—creating a need for employers to find and train replacements.


How does your association address these issues? Is there a role for chapters?

Rick said leadership training can’t be developed in silos. The component relations team shouldn’t develop training only for chapter leaders while other departments develop training for other leaders. Leadership training is a chapter, association, and industry need that warrants a holistic approach.

Integrate chapter and association leadership development with industry needs by treating leadership as a competency—a competency that becomes a required component in digital badge, certificate, and certification programs.


NIGP’s Leadership Development Programs

Rick introduced us to NIGP’s three leadership development programs.

Leadership Essentials is a group of 24 online, on-demand leadership courses that can be purchased a la carte or by subscription with a Leadership All Access Pass. Courses cover topics such as motivating and coaching employees, optimizing resources, adapting to change, developing strategies, building resources, and grooming your workforce for excellence. New modules are added quarterly.

Leaders Edge is a yearlong leadership development program “created to find and nurture rising stars in public procurement who aspire to become the next generation of executive leaders.” The goal is to develop both public agency and chapter leaders with a mix of in-person and online learning sessions on topics such as communication, leading change, influence and persuasion, coaching and mentoring, leading teams, conflict management, and strategic thinking.

Participants must apply for acceptance into the Leaders Edge program, much like the participants in ASAE’s Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) do.

The Chapter Academy provides training for the incoming presidents of NIGP’s 72 independent chapter affiliates. Like many associations, NIGP used to have a one-day chapter leadership symposium. But they wanted to redesign the program so it would better address chapter challenges—volunteer recruitment, leadership commitment, and succession planning—and sustain networking beyond the event.

The new three-day conference focuses on chapter leader engagement, program planning and development, and volunteerism. The program provides the skills needed by chapter leaders to stimulate new thinking, inspire action, and execute their chapter’s mission.

Some of the highlights include an Ignite session where leaders share chapter success stories, a community service project, and opportunities for networking and sharing learning. After the event, NIGP continues their engagement of chapter leaders with virtual sessions, online community discussions, and additions to their chapter resource library on the NIGP website, like a marketing toolkit.


How NIGP Attracts & Engages Volunteers and Chapter Leaders 

NIGP’s chapter ambassadors have a key role in chapter leader engagement. These “evangelical volunteers” hold a coveted role in the NIGP community as member liaisons to chapters. NIGP pays for their travel to chapters in their region, but the chapter ambassadors do this work on their own time. NIGP designs the presentations for their visits so ambassadors relay a consistent message to each chapter.

Another essential group in NIGP’s volunteering program is the Talent Council, which ensures that the volunteer and leader selection process is separated from political influence.

The council’s Pipeline & Placement committee talks to members interested in volunteering about their passions, skills, interests, and availability. They also assess each volunteer’s experience to determine their level of engagement and satisfaction. Rick said that many of their chapters are now replicating the Talent Council model.

Rick reiterated the most important message of the day: get leadership out of silos. He suggested that you ask your CEO: What do you need to hear from me to elevate this conversation? How can we create sustainable leadership development for our chapters, association, and industry?


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About the author

Mark is known for his success in helping empower non-profit organizations across the U.S. and around the world to do more, multiply their impact, and grow. He regularly walks organizations through discovery processes that uncover internal obstacles, helping them identify and implement ways to more effectively run chapter-based organizations through process improvements and the use of innovative technologies. As a sought-after industry thought leader, he often speaks at leadership conferences, and regularly hosts educational roundtables and workshops in the non-profit sector. Mark has an unrelenting passion in helping solve problems for mission-based organizations so they can better focus on their mission and expand their impact across the nation and around the world.