Find Volunteers that Fit Your Need Rather than Schedule
In their efforts to find volunteers, associations and other types of not-for-profit organizations often encounter difficulties going beyond a basic appeal to its membership. With a need to fill a broad range of roles, from the board to directors to committee and team participants, the need to find volunteers is constant but rarely easy. Often, this can lead to the wrong person in a volunteer role simply because they can put in the time despite not being the best qualified option.
But what can be done to overcome this reoccurring issue? How can finding volunteers shift from finding someone -- anyone -- to fill a position to being about finding the right person? Here are some ideas to consider:
Stir the Idle Membership to Action using their Self-Interest
Given the existing relationship your organization has with its membership, they are the lowest hanging fruit when looking to find volunteers. Indeed, because of the nature of many roles within an association, they are the only possible source of volunteers for most not-for-profits. Your membership cannot be ignored even when they tell you being ignored is exactly what they want. You need to find a way to rouse and engage them.
Many of those who join a not-for-profit pay their membership dues because of the opportunities it creates for their careers and businesses. As such, they are content to enjoy the benefits but don't contribute their own time and energy back to the organization. So, how do you get them involved?
Define your search to find volunteers in a way that clearly indicates doing so will benefit those who step up rather than just aiding the organization. Shift the spotlight. Focus on how volunteer opportunities open career opportunities via networking, provide the sort of leadership and management experience their employer would be interested in fostering, and provide the sort of experience that shines on a resume.
Retired and Former Volunteers
Members qualified for a desired role have many reasons to leave an organization, ranging from no longer being in the relevant sector to outright retirement. When the reason is something other than losing interest in your organization and its membership, there remains an opportunity to retain such non-members as volunteers.
If your organization's by-laws permit, keep former members as manpower volunteers in non-managerial roles rather than on-boarding unqualified members. They can join certain task forces and action committees without a decision-making role. They could join your content creation committee, for example.
It may also be possible to create a new membership tier in the case of former members who have retired but would have liked to remain involved with your organization. If their former employer was the one paying their membership dues, for instance, their lapsed membership may simply be a matter of not being able to pay for it themselves. If this is the case, consider an "honorary member" level of membership.
Just what such a membership entails would depend on your organization's nature and its by-laws, but would exist for the purpose of creating a mechanism for retired members to remain involved with the organization without paying dues. Understandably, paying members still active in the job market would likely get upset if you were giving memberships away for free, so this tier of member would require limiting restrictions. Not being able to vote (or their vote only counting as a half member) or become a board member, for example, would be reasonable restrictions on such honorary members. Similarly, these volunteers would not be able to partake of membership benefits that come at a direct cost paid for by dues (e.g., association-provided insurance benefits.)
By creating a new path to membership that accommodates and welcomes lapsed members, your organization may be able to find volunteers who still have an interest in lending a hand.
Find Volunteers via Membership Recruitment
Instead of looking inside your existing membership for someone who can fill the time slot the desired volunteer role is required to fulfil its responsibilities, come at it from the reverse angle. Look for someone qualified who is looking for such volunteer opportunities and then work on converting them into a member. This can be extremely difficult because, generally, people seeking volunteer opportunities are not expecting to fork over membership fees (which is why non-member volunteers are largely the purview of charities rather than associations.)
There are various online resources available to non-profits looking for people actively seeking volunteer opportunities. For the most part, the people there are hoping to contribute to charities and social advocacy organizations in need of manpower. This means they are expecting an altruistic experience many not-for-profits don't offer, so membership can be a hard sell. You'll need to put lots of effort into converting potential volunteers found in this manner, but it is possible if your organization somehow dovetails into a related non-profit cause.
Build Your Online Audience
Delve into online communities and networks related to your organization's goals and seek out subject matter experts (SMEs) and the like who may be willing to help your organization without joining it. This process works best for roles that do not have a direct influence on your organization's course of action and goals, thus bypassing most risky conflicts of interest. You may, for example, reach out to related SMEs on LinkedIn. If they have an interest in getting their message and expertise in front of your audience, they may be willing to become content contributors.
Understandably, such an approach will not help you find volunteers for your board, to serve as directors, or otherwise fill similar roles. Unless you can also on-board into your organization as members volunteers found in this way, their contributions will be limited to those of outsiders. This potential always exists, even if it isn't your primary intent when reaching out to your online audience, so find a way to work with your membership team to include an appropriate call to action in your online volunteer search.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Never stop looking for volunteers, even when all roles are filled. Keep an eye on people who would be ideal for a given role because, inevitably, that role will open up again. Your organization is always going to need volunteers, so never stop looking.
A better understanding of the role volunteers play in associations will go a long way to help organizations more easily find the right people for their needs. In their book, Role of Volunteers in Non-Profit Organizations, Jach Shand, CAE and Kenneth Thacker detail this process, as well as offer insight and suggestions that may help you locate the most suitable volunteers you can access.