Successful Volunteer Organizations

By Laura Hudson

On the last day of the national conference, Gael Treesiwin of Creative Learning Services provided a two-hour training for the Chapter Board on what it takes to be a successful volunteer organization.  Specifically, Section Presidents had asked for ideas on how to get more participation in Section events and especially in Section leadership. It was a very interactive training with lots of good discussion among the thirteen folks who participated. 

After walking us through the profile of volunteers nationally—who volunteers and why (e.g., retired people to give back to their community; teenagers and young adults to learn about possible career paths) Gael talked to us about how to recruit and keep people involved. Here are some of the key points that I took away from the discussion:

  • There have been major shifts in family structure, employment and communications over the past two decades, and our Chapter’s structure, focus and expectations of members and volunteers need to be adjusted to reflect these changes. 
  • Don’t expect a general announcement in newsletters or emails or at meetings to result in many volunteers—we need to identify people with a passion for planning and ask them directly and personally to become involved. 
  • Offer a variety of ways to be involved and help the Section or Chapter. Our members are very busy and we need to fit into their lives. Besides, small requests for help can lead to bigger commitments if both sides are comfortable.
  • Don’t assume that a negative response to a request for help on a project, program or leadership role means that the person will never want to help. Ask about the reasons for the “No” and ask again with something that fits their needs or interests better.
  • Be very clear about what you are asking for, including the time and effort involved and any expectations, such as attending monthly meetings.
  • Don’t treat volunteers like lackeys or micromanage their work—we are professionals with a lot of experience and want to use that expertise.
  • Tom Sawyer was on to something with the fence white-washing. Make it fun or cool to participate. That can be as simple as providing special benefits to volunteers—food at meetings, recognition events, T-shirts or hats, or special training. It’s also important to say thank you often and sincerely—and say it to the families as well as the volunteers.
  • Plan for transition of roles. It isn’t good for the volunteers or the organization to have people in the same roles for years at a time. Make sure there are clear descriptions of the roles and that the current office holders have a plan of how to hand off to someone else. This is also helpful in the event of an emergency.

Gael also provided a list of websites and further reading material in her participant handbook:

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