Many organizations have systems in place for recruiting volunteers at all levels of the operation, and that’s always a great place to start, but how do we help cultivate interest in becoming a chapter adviser? Once we’ve recruited a new adviser, how do we grow them?
- How do we retain them?
- What do volunteers want?
- How do they want to engage?
We’ll try to give you some useful and practical thoughts on how to find and engage one of our most valuable and sometimes hard to come by resources.
Step #1: Recruiting advisers
Identify and alleviate the roadblocks, real or perceived.
Individuals may feel there are too many barriers to becoming an adviser. Some roadblocks may include:
- Lack of information about opportunities to volunteer
- Fear of not having the skills needed
- Conflict with other volunteer activities
- No proactive outreach asking them to volunteer
- Lack of virtual volunteering opportunities
- Lack of short-term assignments (g., micro-volunteering)
Think about how you can help your team overcome these obstacles. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry and keep on reading because we’ll provide some ideas.
Consider some smaller volunteer opportunities.
Research shows that 60% of volunteers want small, ad hoc jobs, but those aren’t always available to chapter advisers. That said, if there are opportunities available, bring members into smaller advisory roles, those who may not have year-round responsibilities or that may have a lighter workload.
Doing so will allow those volunteers to develop skills and build deeper relationships with the chapter and with their fellow team members. When the time comes that they have more availability or feel more equipped and confident, you have well-trained volunteers to appoint to those positions that require more time and a greater commitment.
Consider alternative ways to volunteer.
Many organizations have qualified members who would be willing to volunteer, but because they don’t have a collegiate chapter near them, they just haven’t been able to commit to a weekly, or even a monthly, chapter visit. Distance should no longer be a hindrance to engaging a good chapter adviser. With the advent of technology, it has become easier to connect “at-a-distance” advisers with chapters who need assistance.
While you may not want an advisory board chairperson who can’t visit the chapter on at least a monthly basis, there are likely several other advisory positions that don’t rely on an adviser being physically present. Take advantage of some of the great technology available such as virtual meeting tools, mobile technology and more, to get those qualified volunteers engaged!
Use chapter programming to help recruit potential advisers.
Don’t underestimate the power of good chapter programming, especially when it comes to recruiting volunteers. Encourage the chapter to have programming that includes local alumni/ae. Some natural opportunities to invite and engage alumnae and potential advisers in a meaningful way are Initiation, Founders Day celebrations, and senior programming. Fun collumnae events around homecoming, sports events, and philanthropy activities also provide excellent opportunities to chat with alumnae about adviser opportunities.
Hint: Providing templates or guides that help chapters know and plan for events that are prime for alumni/ae engagement.
Enlist current advisers to help.
Local alumni/ae and current advisers should be active partners in identifying and cultivating new talent to serve on advisory teams. When meeting new alumni/ae, encourage existing advisers to take the opportunity to share their own positive and rewarding experiences as collegiate chapter advisers.
Peggy Hoffman, President and Executive Director of Mariner Management, who specializes in chapter-based organizations and volunteer management, suggests that we should practice “the ask.” Teach current advisers how to frame the conversation about volunteering, how to invite someone to volunteer, and how to follow up on that conversation. Peggy suggests finding out what a member is interested in, what they like doing, and which chapter activities are important to them. Then, match their interests to volunteer opportunities.
Step #2: “Growing” advisers
You’ve successfully identified and engaged several new advisers, now what?
Connect them to a more seasoned adviser and organizational resources.
Providing resources that set a new volunteer up for success is key to a rich and rewarding experience for everyone. Connecting them with a knowledgeable mentor offers the opportunity to ask questions or seek guidance from someone who may have dealt with similar issues or situations.
Guide them to the resources that will make them successful in their new role.
If your organization provides formal education and training opportunities for advisers, make sure everyone participates. Be sure to provide handbooks and documents, such as bylaws, standing rules, policies and procedures, so advisers have go-to resources to reference to answer questions or address concerns. Don’t forget the soft-skills such as conflict resolution, how to have tough conversations and how to ensure each member has a positive experience.
Establish clear and realistic expectations.
Don’t minimize expectations, including the time commitment and level of engagement needed to advise a particular officer or area. As mentioned earlier, some volunteer positions are larger than others and require more time, or even knowledge and experience. Don’t set a new adviser up for failure, because expectations were not accurately or clearly shared.
Remind them that advisers advise, they don’t do.
The role of a chapter adviser is just that, to advise, mentor, and coach collegiate members and officers in their positions. It’s not an adviser’s job to do the work for them. That said, it’s essential that advisers follow proper procedures or protocol in doing their own job, which may include reviewing, evaluating and approving (or not) chapter programming, financial transactions, and events.
Step #3: retaining ADVISERS
Collegiate chapter advisers are one of our most valuable assets, so it’s important that we treat them that way. Here are a few ways to make them feel valued and appreciated, and hopefully, thwart volunteer burnout.
- Check-in: Connect with them regularly, give them gentle reminders, and keep them in the loop. Communication is key.
- Don’t micromanage: Empower them to make decisions within the scope of their role.
- Recognize and reward them appropriately: Both formal and informal recognition are valuable tools in your volunteer satisfaction toolbox. A simple acknowledgment and thank you for a job well done goes a long way.
- Give volunteers a holiday: We all need an opportunity to take a break to refresh and recharge. Strongly encourage chapter advisers to disconnect whenever collegians are on a break. Advising should not feel like a 24/7/365 commitment.
- Give and get feedback: You’re not doing anyone any favors by not providing advisers with constructive feedback. Just as it’s important to acknowledge a job well done, it’s equally important to recognize areas or behaviors that may need some improvement or additional coaching. It’s also important to ask for and receive constructive feedback when it is offered. Be sure to listen thoughtfully, acknowledge that you heard what was said, and thank them for being willing to share.
We also have to acknowledge that sometimes a volunteer role just isn’t a good fit or a volunteer is ready to move on. Watch for some key signs, for example, they’re no longer engaged or mentally present, look and act exhausted; act cranky, cynical and complain often; there is a noticeable lack of enthusiasm or interest, or; they have withdrawn, don’t show up, or simply stop communicating.
If a current role is not a good fit, perhaps a new position would be a better and more satisfying option. However, if a volunteer is just ready to move on (or you’re ready to have them move on), provide an “off-ramp” that lets them know it is OK to opt out of volunteering. If that’s the case, be sure to wish them well and thank them for their service.
Good, qualified, engaged chapter advisers can be the difference between a successful chapter and a failing chapter. When you find them, be sure to give them all of the tools to serve effectively, successfully, and happily!