Monday, August 4, 2008

Book Report: ASAE's "The Decision to Volunteer"

I just finished reading the newest (soon to be released) ASAE book, "The Decision to Volunteer" (Beth Gazley, Ph.D. and Monica Dignam), a report on why, when and how members decide to volunteer. The reason to buy it is because it's full of info and charts you can personally use within your own association to figure out how to better structure your association's volunteer opportunities, while understanding what is going to attract a wider range of volunteers to say yes to participation. The intent of the study/book is to provide practical suggestions, and it does that.

Here are points I found interesting (resulting from their 26,305 survey responses), and tools to use:

1. It's always the basics: volunteers have other options for their time than us; they still want to help others, build a better society, help profession; asking directly best approach by far (even with "wired" generations); use their time effectively; younger generations committed to volunteering too; send message it helps them professionally; think small projects not just big projects; and look at why they won't volunteer - #1 reason: lack of info about opportunities;

2. Consider what organizations do that completely turns off volunteers: poor follow-through, forgetting to say thank you, poor communication, no support, unclear roles, high transportation costs, tell them there's a "pecking order" for appointments; (Note: there's suggestions on how address each of these!)

3. Changes in volunteer patterns: teenagers engage more (in my experience it's due to "mandatory volunteerism" in the schools now), more employer focus on "workplace volunteering", short-term assignments like "Days of Caring", corporate community projects; "involuntary" volunteerism - such as a legal or professional requirement;

4. Notable statistic: three out of four adults don't volunteer at all;

5. There's an "informal psychological contract": the volunteer does expect something in return - there's an anticipated outcome you will/won't meet;

6. Demographics: big statistical focus on demographic characteristics of volunteers and how their age, marital status, family situation, background, other factors influence how they volunteer. There's a chart (Exhibit 3-19) that shows how volunteers learned of opportunities. An example of how to use: when your members say "how come members didn't sign up for committees with our big ad and mailings", you can say "look, those techniques work less than 6% of the time";

7. Specific ways to appeal to values: do you have the "what's in it for me" message? Do you test your volunteer messages by asking potential volunteers what THEY believe is the specific value?

8. Involuntary departures: book mentions that some have term limits so lack of involvement may be involuntary -- what isn't explored in depth is the issue of when the association can't have every volunteer on a "career path" for volunteering forever or never leaving their favorite positions;

9. Generations and career levels: where volunteers devote their time may be the age/stage of their children; or where they are with their career -- so book explains the need to create the "right message" based on who you're trying to recruit (one size does not fit all) and varied opportunities;

10. Enormous opportunity in "virtual volunteering": whole area that many associations have not yet explored as deeply as they likely should;

11. Need a "keep in touch" program to keep staff connected to the talented volunteers who may step out of role for a period of time due to other commitments: Don't lose touch if you know you'd want them back;

12. Acting on the Findings: If you get the book, page 71 is worth it alone -- ideas for "family-friendly" (I'd also just call it "life-friendly") policies -- and a chart to help guide associations in how to plan "flexible volunteer options". One side of the chart is the anticipated amount of time to complete a volunteer task; the other axis is what can be done (and needs to be done) for virtual volunteer activities and face-to-face volunteer activities. So when we get the question "how much time does it take", we can say "how much time can you give" and list the things within the time -- so if they have 1 hour we can give them volunteer activities that will take an hour to choose from, or if they'll give 200 hours, what we have that involves that amount of time. There's also a series of questions to seriously look at how association schedules and marketing may be better designed -- a) what would allow teleconference instead of live; b) do times of meetings make it hard for those with young families; etc.

Here's Ben Martin's take on the book ... Like Ben, I would have liked to have seen statistics of state responses (vs. "United States"), or an option to find that info online. Plus (disclosure), I got to read the book free since I guess I'm now a known commenter on various association publications.

As noted, the book has a wide range of observations and suggestions to use to improve your volunteer efforts. And there are many sections of the book I didn't even mention, that could be valuable to others as well ....

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