Future Volunteers for the Asking

Most associations and nonprofits fret about the future of volunteering and whether they can count on replacing an aging corps of faithful volunteers. For those who fret, there is good news in the findings from the 2007 ASAE and the Center study entitled Decision to Volunteer.

First, the good news is so obvious that it probably does take research to kick us out of our despair. When volunteers in associations were surveyed, the top reason they gave for volunteering was another volunteer or staff member asked. Sure the research did show that when people say no it is most often because of time constraint or family and professional responsibilities. But more people would volunteer if we simply provided more information about volunteer opportunities, preferably through individual contact rather than impersonal email blasts or web pages. It’s hard to say no when someone we respect recognizes our ability and asks us to contribute to a field or industry that defines our lives.

To overcome time constraints, try promoting virtual volunteering. Think of all the assignments that could be broken into manageable and flexible time commitments and done remotely, such as writing, researching, reviewing, mentoring, recruiting members, supporting legislation, developing new products, etc. Even some committees and task forces could work well without lots of face time.

Evidently most associations overlook the value of virtual volunteering. The researchers found associations do a poor job of tracking this ad hoc volunteering. If members can’t serve on the board or a demanding committee, their contributions are just not that visible to most associations. More care needs to be put into providing recognition and tangible benefits for these efforts.

Although only one in four Americans volunteer, associations are in luck. Association members match the ideal demographic profile of Americans who do volunteer. They volunteer for both self interest (learning new skills, meeting other people and advancing their careers) and altruism (helping others and giving back to their field). As Decision to Volunteer co-author Beth Gazley said in her ASAE conference presentation, “Never write off the non-volunteer. Maybe he or she is waiting to be asked.”