Mapping the Chapter Volunteer Competencies Needed Along the Volunteer Pathway

Where are all the chapter volunteers? You’d think with the increasing vaccination rate and the relaxing of social distancing rules, members would come running back to volunteering. But many component relations professionals (CRPs) aren’t seeing this yet. In fact, CRPs are concerned about unfilled chapter leadership positions and exhausted volunteer leaders who need a break.

Even in the best of times, volunteer recruitment and retention are a challenge. What we need, according to Peggy Hoffman, FASAE, CAE, of Mariner Management, and Kristine Metter, MS, CAE, of Crystal Lake Partners, is a more sustainable, mutually beneficial volunteer model—and they just happened to have designed one. They recommend identifying a member’s motivations and aligning them with a volunteer learning journey.

In our last post, we introduced the volunteer learning journey and the volunteer pathway. As members move along the volunteer pathway, they develop the skills and experience needed for the task at hand and can see what competencies they need to move to the next level of volunteering—the topic of this post.

You may not have the bandwidth or resources to implement all the pieces we describe in this series of posts, and that’s okay. Pick which elements you want to use or focus on only a few volunteer roles to start. This learning journey framework helps you provide volunteer experiences that fulfill a member’s motivations and aspirations, and the training that helps them develop the skills they need to take the next step in their volunteer journey.



The volunteer pathway has five levels:

  1. Emerging or new volunteer
  2. Learning volunteer
  3. New volunteer leader
  4. Experienced volunteer leader
  5. Strategic volunteer leader

Within each level, different roles require different competencies. A volunteer competencies matrix shows members the type of skills and knowledge they need for volunteer roles they’re interested in now and for more advanced roles that might interest them in the future.

For each pathway level, the volunteer competencies matrix identifies:

  • Volunteer roles within that level
  • Member characteristics
  • Association-specific knowledge
  • Association governance knowledge
  • Skills needed for the role

For example, a committee vice-chair is a level 3, new volunteer leader, role.

  • Member characteristics: Interested in leading a group of peers, such as a committee in the near future; has a basic understanding of the leadership role.
  • Association knowledge: Understands the association’s strategic plan, relevant programs, and the committee’s charge.
  • Governance knowledge: Understands the basic principles of a not-for-profit organization and the association’s governance structure.
  • Skills: Meeting management, task delegation, listening and responding to feedback, and small group leadership.

A competencies matrix shows volunteers what kind of roles they can take on with the skills and knowledge they possess, and what competencies they need to develop to move to a different role or pathway level. The matrix brings transparency to the volunteer recruitment process by proving it’s not whom you know, but what you know that can take you along the volunteer pathway.

The matrix also demonstrates the value of volunteering as a way to learn and grow. It shows staff and members how to move a new volunteer through the journey. It can help them make potentially awkward conversations go more smoothly. If they know a young member with potential, they can show them what they need to learn to get to the next level. The young member may not want to climb the traditional leadership ladder, and that’s fine, but they must develop the skills and knowledge required for board service.



Peggy introduced us to an optional but brilliant idea: one of her client associations created a staff committee liaison competencies matrix. The role of committee liaison comes with many association jobs, often as “other duties as assigned.” But rarely does an association recognize and help staff develop the unique competencies required for this role. This matrix spells out the skills and knowledge needed by staff liaisons and professionalizes the committee and volunteer management aspect of many association positions.



Before we dive into training for the different volunteer roles in the matrix, let’s first make a distinction between two types of volunteer training:

  • Transactional training
  • Developmental training

Transactional training teaches volunteers the skills and knowledge to do the task or “job” at hand, including volunteer rules and responsibilities. Volunteers usually receive this training during orientation and onboarding, but don’t always learn everything they need.

For example, a membership ambassador is taught how to log in to the member portal, find resources and events on the website, decide what questions to ask the new member, and report back to staff what they learn about the new member. But to excel in this role, the ambassador must also know how to connect membership benefits and experiences to a new member’s goals, align the new member’s interests and concerns with the association’s goals and strategies, and know enough to explain how the association works and who does what on staff.

The purpose of developmental training is to cultivate leaders. Prospective volunteer leaders must develop a certain level of hard (technical, measurable) skills and soft (human, interpersonal) skills before they accept a leadership position. Leadership development doesn’t end once they reach the board level; lifelong learning is a leadership imperative. For example, aspiring leaders must develop competency in strategic thinking, foresight, presentations, difficult conversations, and diversity and inclusion.

As members go through the volunteer learning journey, they move from positions of tactical and operational support to positions of strategic leadership. The benefits of volunteering become obvious since the skills and knowledge they develop can be applied not only to their association “job” but to their real job too.

In our next post, we’ll describe how volunteer scenarios can help you figure out the type of training and development you need to design and deliver to volunteers.

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.

About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.