ASAE Foundation research on the elements of mutually beneficial volunteer relationships indicates that many associations are employing effective volunteer management practices, but there is still room for improvement.
Volunteers, on average, perform 20 to 25 percent of an association’s work (measured in hours), and staff members who work with boards and committees spend 31 percent of their time managing them. Volunteer systems that maximize the effectiveness and impact of volunteers are essential to an association’s overall health.
Hallmarks of effective volunteer management include strong working relationships, periodic evaluation and restructuring, and clearly defined roles for volunteers. These practices lead to volunteer experiences that benefit both the volunteer and the association, but they can be challenging to implement. According to staff and volunteer responses in the ASAE Foundation report Mutually Beneficial Volunteerism, associations are often successful at fostering strong relationships between staff and volunteers and ensuring that committee structures are effective, but many need to be more specific about volunteer roles.
Strong working relationships. The research provides strong evidence of positive relationships between volunteers and staff. Sixty-two percent of volunteers reported high satisfaction with association staff, and 22 percent said they were somewhat satisfied.
Association executives gave high ratings to communication practices between staff and volunteers and between staff members involved in volunteer management. Executives commonly reported having staff liaisons to most committees, a recommended practice to improve efficiency and create consistent communication channels to volunteers. Effective staff-to-staff communication ensures consistent messaging and eliminates redundancies in volunteer work.
Committee structures. Most associations consistently evaluate the effectiveness of their committees to ensure that their work advances the organization’s mission. Seventy-three percent of respondents had evaluated their committee structure in the last five years, and 79 percent had added, deleted, or substantially changed the mission of some of those committees.
Fewer association executives reported tying the work of volunteer groups to the goals of the organization. Forty-seven percent said they generally used a systematic workplan to align committee activities with the organization’s priorities.
20-25% Percentage of associations' overall work contributed by volunteers
Clearly defined roles. Volunteers should know they have contributed to their association in a meaningful way. When asked what would best improve their experience, 39 percent of current volunteers said they would like a better understanding of how their work fits into the association’s larger context, and the same percentage said they wanted clearer guidelines about their duties.
Committee plans of work, shared at the start of a committee year, create transparency, context, and clarity for volunteer roles. Staff and volunteer leaders can also incorporate periodic feedback into their processes so volunteers stay on track.
Associations do many things right to facilitate positive and productive experiences for volunteers, but the long-term value of these practices comes from making them a routine part of your volunteer management system. Systematic practices for communication, evaluation, and plans of work help volunteers feel both engaged and accomplished and ensure that associations continue to get the volunteer support they need.