Effective Practices and Resources for Engaging Volunteers

On May 31 and June 1, 2022, Avenue M asked more than 20 professional and trade association CEOs and executives via a new Avenue M quick poll, “What is your #1 volunteer challenge?” The top two challenges cited by leaders on the panel were increasing diversity (41%) and recruiting new volunteers (32%). (Click HERE to participate in future polls.)

Volunteer Challenges
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One leader stated, “Adjusting volunteer commitments and expectations during a pandemic and other big nation/world issues.” Another participant added, “Board culture – how to build board culture with new/old board members and so much Zoom time.”

What actions can you take?

As we look for indicators of healthy, future-focused, and impactful volunteer and governance models across the association landscape, below is a list of effective practices embraced by high functioning and effective organizations in 2022.

  1. Create a Subject Matter Experts (SME) panel to engage a larger and more diverse population of volunteers who may not have the time to serve on a committee or board but wish to volunteer or contribute.
  2. Create short-term assignments within your current volunteer structure that do not require extensive industry knowledge.
  3. Be flexible in how decisions are made. Identify if there is a need to reconfigure your volunteer structure to allow for ongoing changes that mirror the rate of change in the profession and account for evolving member needs.
  4. Create more micro-communities, such as topic-specific or niche areas within the larger association community.
  5. Employ fast-track succession opportunities into your organization’s leadership structure. This helps to ensure volunteers with subject matter expertise, or other diverse representation qualifications, do not have to give years of service in order to play a meaningful role.
  6. Create multiple leadership pipelines that allow for broad access to opportunities.

Good governance recognizes that it should continuously identify ways to lower the cost of governance. Including fewer structures that cost less money and staff time to administer will help ensure that more money goes into member value-producing activities.

Increasing Diversity

Associations seeking to increase diversity among their volunteers should create a DEIA Action Plan or road map that embraces the values they hold, identifies specific goals, and anticipates possible outcomes. Avenue M recommends including the following goals in an Action Plan:

  • Belonging. Provide a safe, welcoming environment and cultivate an inclusive culture that respects and supports the contributions of diversity.
  • Commitment. Invest and integrate DEIA in all aspects of the organization, including volunteer leadership roles, awards, content, and education.
  • Leadership. Increase diversity among top leadership ranks and recognize individual achievements.

Specific Recommendations

  • Conduct annual surveys with volunteers and staff to assess and improve DEIA efforts.
  • Establish, monitor, and benchmark key metrics to measure progress.
  • Welcome a diverse range of expertise and collaborative voices when developing new educational programs and content.
  • Build meaningful and sustained partnerships with other organizations led by and supporting Black communities, Indigenous communities, Communities of Color, LGBTQ+, faith-based organizations, community organizations, and differently-abled organizations.
  • Utilize a DEIA matrix when evaluating the selection of volunteers for all leadership and committee/task force assignments.
  • Publish an annual Diversity Report that tracks progress toward goals and provide regular updates to the Board of Directors.
  • Develop a formal DEIA leadership training/mentorship/sponsorship program.

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