As I watch the evolution of volunteerism I’m convinced that we will continue to see shrinkage in available volunteer time regardless of what we do, leaving us two possible strategies. One option is to rely less on volunteers; a viable choice for some, but impractical or cost prohibitive for many associations. A better bet might be to attract a many players in more but smaller, less time-intensive roles. There's a push-back against that because it requires major changes to deploy and manage larger numbers of people in continuously fluxing roles. So the question becomes this: is the need strong enough to justify the effort?
I recently worked with an national association that had a huge governance system with several hundred volunteer roles. Filling a large number of vacancies was becoming difficult to achieve. The first year they offered ad hoc roles like consulting expert called on as needed, their annual call for volunteers produced a 200% increase in new applicants. And the vast majority of those opted for the ad hoc roles. Few wanted standing or long term ones. The increase in available volunteer resources certainly justified the enormous effort. Getting there, though, was cause for not a little angst in having to rethink and reinvent their volunteer workforce deployment. The members loved it. But here's the rub…the staff, who thought they would love it, actually hated it. Turns out they'd had to rethink and relearn much of what they knew about structuring volunteer efforts. For some that meant changing a lifetime of work habits in ways they never imagined at the start of the change they had so strongly supported. It was an uphill slog, and took a couple of years, but they were ultimately successful. They now have not only enough volunteers each year, but they are developing a huge back-bench of people they can bring in for short stints, testing for fit and preparing them for succession to bigger roles.
It'd certainly be a game changer, and if your association governance or program execution is volunteer dependent, retooling volunteer deployment and management may become a necessity. For all its difficulties, the effort itself will be temporary and we'll all grow professionally as we get used to managing differently.
In Part 4 next week I'll talk about dealing with the dull work we sometimes ask of our volunteers.