Building the Bench: How to Get Volunteers Involved and Engaged

Volunteerism is at the heart of your association–here’s how to make it work for you and your members.

By Nikki Palluzzi, CAE

Hands of diverse group of people together raised up. Concept of support and cooperation, girl power, social community. Vector illustration

Having a strong bench of volunteers to execute on the mission of an association is the ideal scenario, but how do you build up that bench strength when your members are busy professionals or new to their careers? One way to get there: operationalizing the volunteer recruitment process to start early and creating space along the way for those who want to get involved but are concerned about the time commitment.

Traditionally, volunteers devote their time to associations in the same ways—chapter leaders, committee members, and serving on Boards are all examples of what associations offer in the way of volunteer leadership. While these positions are crucial to organizations, they can also be daunting to new professionals and less tenured members. Because of this, volunteers often serve repeatedly in different capacities or keep their roles longer than they ever intended. This can lead to stagnation within the association, and burnout for the volunteers. What are some ways to get new volunteers involved and avoid burning out your long-time contributors?

Get a Headstart on Volunteerism

At the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), one of the ways that we’ve been able to do this successfully is by making sure that we start talking about volunteerism early in membership. Volunteerism is discussed in welcome calls by other volunteers, and it’s discussed in new member webinars. Explaining that volunteering is for all members early helps new members to feel that their perspectives and experiences are valuable to the organization from the minute they join. While members may be new to NAPFA, they’ve often had experience volunteering in their communities or in their firms, and that experience can easily translate to areas within NAPFA. Often a new member is not someone new to the financial planning profession, and their years in the industry make them a great candidate for volunteering. It’s our job as staff to make volunteering something easy to say yes to, instead of an intimidating proposition that’s only available to long-time members.

Be Transparent on Roles and Expectations

NAPFA does its volunteer recruitment campaign once a year, and lays out every volunteer opportunity on the website by noting how much time the volunteer can expect the role to take, what kind of tasks are required, and what kind of person might enjoy this specific role (e.g. if you like to work in teams, this committee is a good place to get involved; If you’re an introvert, this project would be good for you). By being transparent about roles and expectations, you’re more likely to entice the right volunteers into the right roles, which sets up volunteers and staff for success and engagement.

Create Space for all Types of Volunteerism

Another way that NAPFA has been successful in bringing on new volunteers is by opening up opportunities besides those mentioned previously. In local groups, we encourage longtime leaders to recruit other attendees to take on smaller jobs—applying for continuing education, handling invitations, and sourcing speakers are all ways that those invested in the meetings can contribute without feeling the pressure of being the lead for the entire group. This allows the leader to focus on other things and avoid getting burned out, creates a possible succession plan, and gets more people involved as volunteers.

During the pandemic NAPFA also began hosting weekly conversation circles, interactive and virtual discussions by small groups of members with common interests. Rather than have staff facilitate these meetings, members with interest in volunteering can lead these groups. There’s little pre-work, no administrative work for the volunteer, and the discussions are only an hour in length, making it easy for members to say yes to participating. With volunteer help, NAPFA was able to hold over 40 of these sessions in 2021 and got reached more than 500 member participants. Look for easy ways to get members involved, and they will do so.

Expand Your Volunteer Community

A great benefit of figuring out how to get new members and those hesitant to volunteer involved is that you expand the volunteer community to better match your membership. Younger members who are strapped for time or don’t have authorization for time intensive commitments may still want to be involved and be looking for opportunities. Busy firm owners who still want to contribute may need staff to make it easy for them to do so. For NAPFA, it’s true that the more diverse the volunteer community becomes, the better the organization can serve its members and execute on its strategic priorities.

It also means your bench is stronger, which leads to easier succession when those serving in less time-consuming roles are ready to be more involved. It’s an easy progression for someone handling speaker sourcing for a local group to be a candidate for the group lead when the current person is ready to move on. Facilitators for conversation circles are often asked to participate in initiatives or committees. Make volunteering a transparent, easy process to get involved with, and you’ll not only get more people involved, but they’ll likely become a more diverse cross-section of your membership that helps you to drive your association forward.

About the Author

Nikki Palluzzi, CAE, is Director of Member Services & Experience for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). She is also a member of Association Forum's Content Working Group.

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