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

We're sharing advice from the 2019 Association Component Exchange (CEX) for attracting chapter volunteers and building a leadership pipeline.
It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Attract & Retain Chapter Volunteers

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 and keeping chapter volunteers

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


#1: Worries about the time commitment

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?


#2: Breaking into the old guard

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.


#3: Imposter syndrome

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.

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

#4: Boring (useless, disorganized) meeting syndrome

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.


#5: Insufficient onboarding

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


#6: Unclear WIIFM

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?


Your assignment, if you choose to accept it

At CEX, Peggy asked anyone who volunteers to raise their hand. Most of the room had their hand up. She said to keep their hand up if they volunteered for a membership organization. More than half of them put their hand down.

Peggy encourages CRPs to gain insight by putting yourselves in your volunteers’ shoes and volunteering for a membership organization. What do you think, will you give it a try?

Get chapters talking and 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.

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

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.


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

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