The Changing Face of Volunteerism

By Andy Steggles posted Oct 14, 2014 10:58 AM


Technology has disrupted the member engagement continuum and has evolved to become an enabler. For-profit companies are adopting a “lean” approach, enabling them to test their market and quickly implement new ideas and solutions at a relatively low cost. Conversely, many associations continue to struggle with bureaucracy and tend to be much less nimble, due to their lack of inclusivity, and often inefficient, governance structure. 

In an effort to become more member-centric while differentiating themselves from their competition, associations are looking for alternative solutions to provide relevance. Primary ways to do this are embracing different types of volunteerism, becoming more inclusive, improving member satisfaction and ultimately building a greater sense of community.

If you need additional reasons, ASAE’s latest research report, 10 Lessons for Cultivating Member Commitment, shares an astonishing fact: one simple volunteer role shifted a member’s value perception 6 points (from 38 to 44 percent in the Net Promoter Score). A deeper commitment such as taskforce/committee or long-term volunteer roles, sets the value perception at 60 percent. Authors James Dalton and Monica Dignam made this statement: “The visceral experience of involvement is what solidifies their appreciation for what an association is: peers helping peers.”

By looking outside of the “volunteer box”, associations are able to engage more volunteers with more flexible and targeted volunteer opportunities. Many associations already have volunteers giving their time and expertise in a micro-capacity, but until now they have received little to no recognition for their efforts.

 To recognize the volunteer and engagement opportunities available to your members, it’s important to understand the different types of volunteerism. The following lists three broad areas: Term, Task and Micro.

“Term” Volunteers

Term-based volunteerism is what most associations currently embrace. These are typically standing committees with 1+ year terms, which require a high level of commitment by their respective members. Other examples include the Board of Directors or House of Delegates.  Term-based volunteerism may also flow through to the component level, such as a Chapter with chapter officers, typically also serving for 1+ year appointments.

“Task” Volunteers

Task-based volunteerism is the opportunity for members to volunteer for a project that is typically a short-term role, focused on a specific outcome. These opportunities are often more closely aligned with a member’s skill set, thus reducing orientation and training required to make the task even more accessible and convenient. Task-based opportunities allow members to pick and choose where they think they can provide the most value.

“Micro” Volunteers

What about the more dynamic and unstructured volunteer opportunities that occur all the time and are rarely counted as volunteering? The nonprofit sector first identified Micro-volunteering and pushed to embrace it, because like the small financial gifts that add up, the small gift of time spent has the same impact if pooled. The explosion of micro-jobs created an expectation for our members to seek out the same. These also become examples for associations to model. No matter which department is examined, there are usually Micro-volunteers supporting the activities that collectively help advance the organization’s mission. Using an online community or listserv as an example, dissecting what members are doing will help find where someone posts a question and other members post their responses.

The common characteristics found in Micro-volunteer opportunities are:

  • Mission-related
  • Discrete and/or Small
  • Non-hierarchical
  • Of the moment—typically doesn’t require application, screening or training period
  • Synchronized mass mobilization
  • Typically does not require an application process, screening or training period
  • Takes only minutes or a few hours to complete
  • Does not require an ongoing commitment by the volunteer—generally a one-time event

To address these opportunities, organizations are taking a more holistic approach to the definition of volunteerism. By becoming more inclusive with how volunteers are defined and identified, associations are now able to recognize and showcase their volunteer leaders using innovative recognition techniques.

To read about additional findings, access our Volunteer Engagement Success Kit.