Part one of “Members Matter” focused on why association executives need to remember that the foundations of associations have been and will continue to be about using the power of the collective in promoting your association’s profession and/or industry. It also reminded us that we cannot treat members as a transaction, but must keep them as the core focus of everything we do. Finally, if we are working on the issues that most affect them, they will respond in kind by maintaining their membership. In summary, members matter.
But serving members goes beyond creating a valuable membership proposition and core offerings for them to buy into. A thriving association engages their members in multiple ways. First, the association must ask and listen to what members want and need out of the association. But we must take it one step further, we must also uncover what it is that members don’t even know that they might need yet. How does an association achieve a deep understanding of what members may need that they don’t even know they need? It is called being visionary and providing leadership.
Most associations do some type of member satisfaction survey, collect evaluations after events, interview new members, conduct exit interviews and other traditional information-gathering activities. All of these are important activities. What is being missed or lost is the engagement of members in thought leadership.
Amazing things happen when you bring together brilliant minds into the same room and ask the right questions.
I have read too many threads of discussions, articles and books on why we need to do away with committees and change them to task forces or some other type of group that has a limited scope, time commitment and directive, with the idea that it be disbanded as soon as the work is complete. Some of the reasons for this is that associations are experiencing a decline in membership volunteerism, committees that continue to exist without producing output or feedback from members about time commitment. My firm belief is that it is never about time or money, those are easy excuses. Volunteers want to be part of something successful, worth their time and money and provides a positive and rewarding volunteer experience. If those things are in place, the lack of people willing to volunteer goes away.
Not all volunteer opportunities are the same and not all members are designed for the same type of volunteer commitments. Volunteer and engagement management is somewhat of a science, but not that difficult to figure out. However, a commitment to getting it right is vital.
In its most simplistic form, my philosophy on building engagement and member volunteerism goes along these lines.
1. Segment your volunteer groups’ profiles: task-focused, advisory and visionary/strategic.
2. Create an infrastructure which matches an individual’s profile and strengths with the appropriate category of volunteer engagement. For example, if you have a volunteer who is willing to roll-up their sleeves and do hands on work, don’t place them on a think tank group. If you have a high- level visionary, who is better-suited to prognosticate about the future, define alternative futures or participate in high-level visioning or strategic thinking, don’t place them on a more task-focused work group.
3. Good committee members don’t necessarily make great committee chairs; good committee chairs don’t necessarily make great Board members; and good Board members don’t necessarily make great Board officers. Really define the skills, passions and requirements of each segment of your volunteering activities and match the individuals to the right opportunities.
4. Use volunteers’ time wisely. Make sure that each volunteer group or opportunity is well-defined, managed and has a directive/scope. How many of us have experienced the frustrating volunteer experience of serving on a volunteer committee or Board and each year, we start out defining what the group is about or it’s role? It is the fastest way to lose a volunteer. Not only should the group and it’s role and outcomes be defined, but each volunteer should be interviewed and strategically-placed to match their passions, talents and skills.
5. Finally, reward the behaviors you want. Recognize volunteers for their contributions. Celebrate the successes. Ensure that staff and members are partners. Make engagement a priority. Don’t be afraid to ask members to serve. Have term-limits for all volunteer positions. Provide feedback, and in some cases, intervention for volunteers who have gone rogue (always make sure it is member-to-member and not staff-to-member).
Remember, members matter. If given the right opportunities, they will engage in the association. An engaged member is a retained member. But also, they become champions for the association, it’s mission, new members and growth. Make engagement a priority and members will make the association a priority.