Connecting Your Association Through Volunteering: 3 Tips

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As an association leader, you’re always looking for ways to strengthen your member community, and the best way for them to build connections is by bringing them together face-to-face. While conferences or other association-related events are a great place to start, throwing other activities into the mix can facilitate more casual and personal interactions between members. 

If you want a team-building idea that’s low-cost, low-time commitment, and high-fulfillment for your members, look no further than group volunteering

Organizing volunteering outings, such as community service events, can unite your members and bring them benefits in their personal and professional pursuits. Plus, Double the Donation’s volunteer statistics report that approximately 63 million Americans volunteer in some capacity. Some of your members are likely already part of this group, so why not bring them together?

To help you leverage this win-win strategy, we’ll review the following volunteer management tips:

  1. Align Volunteer Activities with Association Values
  2. Facilitate Team Planning and Participation
  3. Set Clear, Achievable Goals and Expectations

As you consider how to implement these tips, keep the preferences of your association’s member community in mind. Also, think about how you can fit volunteering into your current strategic plan.

  1. Align Volunteer Activities with Association Values

Each member-based organization has its own ethics and values that help guide its community. Just like any other event or activity, your volunteer program should allow members to deepen their connections with your core values by reinforcing their importance. 

You can align your volunteer activities with your organization’s values by:

  • Working with community organizations related to your field. Volunteering with a nonprofit initiative that has a mission related to your industry can make the experience more meaningful and relevant for your members. For example, a nursing organization or a medical sorority’s student leaders could choose a free clinic as their philanthropic partner and plan volunteering trips to gain experience and help the clinic’s staff.
  • Hosting group discussions after volunteer outings. Group discussions about how volunteering relates to your mission can spark a connection between your members and their work. Build in discussion time before, during, and after your volunteer experiences with questions meant to spur reflection on the work and your chapter. 
  • Invite a guest speaker to your meetings. You could invite a member of the organization you’re volunteering with as a guest speaker to provide a new perspective to your discourse. For example, if the same medical association or sorority fundraises and volunteers on behalf of a children’s hospital, it might invite real patients to speak about their experiences with the medical system.

To choose a volunteer organization that’s closely related to your association’s core values, come to an understanding with your team early in the planning process so you cover all of your bases. Furthermore, once you’ve researched your volunteering options, conduct informational interviews with their staff to ensure that your members would be a good fit for their volunteer community. 

  1. Facilitate Team Planning and Participation

While volunteering itself can be extremely rewarding for participants, organizers need to involve members throughout the process to maintain team morale and satisfaction. Make it easy for your members to get involved in planning and participating by:

  • Openly communicating. The foundation of any successful group effort is effective communication. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings with your volunteer base to relay big-picture updates. Also, you can use messaging apps, email, texting, and other communication channels to update your volunteers in a pinch. For example, if your volunteering initiative gets rescheduled at the last minute, you could reach them with communication software or group chat. 
  • Forming a planning committee. Planning, while crucial, takes extra time that some of your members might not have. Create a dedicated committee of members who are interested in planning volunteer outings, and ensure you relay the time commitment and expectations of the role in advance. Furthermore, if many of your members are interested in participating, you might need to accept members on a first-come, first-serve basis to keep the committee efficient.
  • Creating and regularly updating informational resources. Help members who are curious about your volunteer program by providing in-depth informational resources. Cover basic information such as your program’s who, what, when, where, and why, as well as how to get involved. If you have an organization that you frequently volunteer with, provide their basic information as well so interested members can educate themselves about their cause.

As your volunteer program grows in size and complexity, you should regularly gauge your planning committee’s effectiveness and decide if you need to shift your approach. Also, remember to survey volunteers about your informational resources so you know how to improve them and avoid volunteer burnout

  1. Set Clear, Achievable Goals and Expectations

Just like with any other association initiative, setting goals and expectations at the beginning of your volunteer program’s life helps you optimally structure your program for long-term success. Try these tips to set and enforce expectations for your volunteers:

  • Use the SMART framework. Make your objectives specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely with this framework. For example, a SMART goal for a volunteer program could be to achieve 100 volunteer signups for its upcoming fundraising auction, which would be 30 more signups than last year’s auction. 
  • Host information sessions. Host a required volunteer debrief meeting before new members start their first shift. Review your goals, answer any questions, and lay out expectations for each volunteer. Ensure your new volunteers understand your terms by having them sign a non-binding agreement to adhere to the program’s standards.
  • Conduct performance check-ins. These meetings are important for both your team and your nonprofit partners to ensure that your volunteers are contributing to your program’s goals. It can be challenging to let go of volunteers who are struggling, but ultimately, you should make whichever choice will improve your program’s effectiveness.

Accomplishing your association’s community service goals is a big achievement. Remember to celebrate your program’s wins and reward productive volunteers with small prizes, like merchandise or a social media shoutout.

Ultimately, your members who volunteer are donating their time on behalf of your association, so remember to thank them sincerely for everything they do. By showing your appreciation and continually improving your program to align with member preferences, your volunteer program will grow and become a fixture of your association’s community. 

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