Successful Volunteer Relationships Start With Creating the Right Fit

people putting four puzzle pieces together March 21, 2017

Volunteering should be as beneficial to the member's career and personal satisfaction as it is to the association's operations, but finding—and empowering—the right volunteer for the work can be tricky. ASAE Research suggests ways to ensure a good fit.

Volunteers contribute 20 to 25 percent of an association's total work hours, according to new ASAE Foundation research. But they don't always find their volunteer experience as fulfilling as they should.

The foundation's latest research report, Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism: Opportunities for Enhancing Association Volunteer Management Opportunities, produced in conjunction with Mariner Management and Marketing and Whorton Marketing & Research, draws on the survey responses of thousands of association members and volunteer management staff leaders. The respondents provided insight into their satisfaction with their volunteer management systems and where they find value in their collaborations.

Both volunteer and association respondents consistently cited gaps in recruitment, orientation, and training of volunteers.

While volunteers reported high satisfaction with their experiences and association leaders were similarly pleased with volunteer contributions, the results show that associations have room to improve their volunteer management systems.

Having enough volunteers was an issue for some associations, but finding volunteers who were well suited to their roles was a challenge for even more. Thirty-two percent of staff respondents said that their associations had considerably fewer potential volunteers than needed, and half said their volunteers were not as qualified or committed as would be ideal. Both volunteer and association respondents consistently cited gaps in recruitment, orientation, and training.

Associations concerned with the caliber of volunteer contributions should look closely at these areas to create more mutually beneficial volunteer relationships.

Widen the Recruitment Lens

Engaging more qualified or committed volunteers may require association staff to be more creative in recruitment. Fifty-three percent of respondents who volunteer were initially recruited by an active member. While word-of-mouth referrals are a positive indicator of satisfaction and engagement among current volunteers, relying on this approach limits the pool of prospects. On average, 70 percent of members have never volunteered, and 32 percent of former volunteers and 31 percent of non-volunteers said they don't currently volunteer because no one asked them to.

50% Percentage of responding organizations that accept volunteers who are not as committed or qualified as the ideal candidate would be

To find the right members for volunteer roles, staff and volunteer leaders must look beyond the usual volunteer peer groups. According to the study findings, associations are succeeding with social media and email to reach out to potential volunteers. Less formal volunteer activities, including those that can be performed virtually, also enable associations to engage more members. A quarter of responding non-volunteers indicated that the lack of such opportunities was a reason they did not currently volunteer.

Focus on Orientation and Training

The right volunteer fit doesn't just happen—it has to be managed. Association leaders and volunteers both agreed that better volunteer orientation, training, and assessment are needed. When asked what would improve their experience, current volunteers mostly frequently identified "a better sense of how their activities fit into the bigger picture" (39 percent) and "clearer guidelines about what they were expected to accomplish in their specific group/function" (also 39 percent).

Responses from association staff mirror these needs. Thirty-two percent of association leaders said they don't orient volunteers sufficiently to give them a strong understanding of their roles. When asked about their strengths in managing volunteers, only 14 percent of executives rated their association's ability to "train and develop volunteers over time, leading to a strong understanding of their roles and value."

To be successful, even the most qualified volunteers need to know what they are doing. If volunteers have a firm understanding of the expectations for and the value of their work, they have the opportunity to be more efficient and effective. Orientation and training processes mean additional work for association staff, but such practices can lead to greater accomplishment and satisfaction for both staff and volunteers.

Association leaders and member volunteers are both highly motivated to create mutually beneficial volunteer systems. While both groups see opportunities to create better relationships, they have a strong foundation of shared goals upon which to build.