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Apprehension or opportunity?

Becoming an effective volunteer leader of an association requires more than commitment. It often requires overcoming some fears about involvement. Fortunately, the work itself can help you identify and deal with your apprehensions, and your volunteer achievements will help you experience the joy of contribution and the excitement of success.

Look around your community and study its leaders. They are likely to be well-rounded people who are active in business, social, and civic affairs. They draw on their relationships with those around them to make their own lives more enjoyable, and they understand that's what getting involved is all about.

Allowing your leadership potential to grow as a volunteer opens many new doors for you and benefits the association you serve. Most associations offer supportive environments in which you can let your creativity flow and expand your network of business and social relationships. A voluntary position may be the only avenue offering you the latitude to experiment with new ideas and techniques without risking failure. And a voluntary post provides the personal satisfaction of giving back to the association some of what you have reaped through membership.

If such fabulous benefits await volunteers, why aren't all associations overrun with active members like you vying for leadership positions? What are the roadblocks that hinder many talented people from fully contributing to worthwhile organizations and limit the value they receive from the volunteer experience? Even as you begin your board term, you may be wrestling with five questions that reflect some surmountable anxieties about your volunteer role.

1. Do I really have the time for this?

Since time is our most precious commodity, we tend to guard it closely. In fact, many members remain would-be volunteer leaders because they fear their association will require a too-large commitment of time and energy without giving much in return. It is natural to worry that your additional volunteer duties will be too heavy a load, given your family and work responsibilities. But you'll soon see your volunteer involvement is a manageable investment. Going to your first meeting and raising your hand the first time may be the hardest thing you do as a new volunteer leader. But as soon as you make that first investment of time, you will begin to realize the benefits you expected from joining the organization.

As you become more involved, you become more visible and your opportunities for leadership increase. Normally, the opportunities come with the fear of committing even more time.

When an organization asks you to use your leadership skills, be selective. Take time to understand what's being offered and what you will have to do. Revisit your motives for joining the organization in the first place. Have they been satisfied? Have they changed? Are you content with your contribution to the organization and with the rewards you have received? Are you intrigued by a proposed program, a new idea, or the overall organization? Do you feel you can make a difference? Answering these questions will help you put the commitment of more time in the proper perspective.

2. Do I already have too much to do?

If you already feel your time is committed fully, you may be experiencing overload. Have you kept quiet about a good idea because you didn't want to be responsible for putting it into practice? Some organizations stifle participation by loading up a few people who won't, or can't, say no. That is as unhealthy from the organization's viewpoint as being "just a joiner" is from the member's. Try to recognize this pitfall and point out to the leadership and staff that such a practice hinders broader membership involvement. Knowing when to say no is as important as knowing when to say yes.

3. What will they ask me to sell?

Most membership organizations need donated funds and/or new members, and that need creates fear in the hearts of volunteers--not the fear of being asked to donate money but the deeper fear of being asked to sell the organization and its programs. If you do not consider yourself to be an effective fund-raiser or recruiter, and many people do not, you may be anxious about being asked to dun your friends and associates. Ask your association about fund-raising and membership-recruitment training--many membership organizations offer it to their volunteer leaders.

Whether your desire to ask others is natural or learned, it's important to be involved with something you believe in. That way, your enthusiasm will communicate itself to those around you. People who respect you will appreciate your asking them to join your organization and will listen to what you have to say. However, give them enough space so that they can make their own decisions, and help them if they decide to become involved in the organization. As you see the people you recruited increase their level of involvement, you will find it easier to attract other members. Your fear of selling will be replaced with the satisfaction of helping people.

However, if you are truly reluctant to approach others about fund-raising or membership, work with your organization to develop a way you can contribute by using your particular talents.

4. Should I speak up?

Few people actually like controversy; yet it confronts almost everyone daily. If you're contributing time and money, it's even more frustrating to be faced with disagreements. However, your perspective is one of the most valuable gifts you offer to the association you serve. Don't let concern that someone will disagree stop you from expressing your ideas and opinions in a constructive way.

Make your voice heard if something is happening that you don't like or don't understand. If something doesn't make sense to you, it probably is troubling others around you as well.

Another benefit you bring to the organization is your knowledge and insight. You may have understanding that the staff or other leaders do not, and a healthy discussion of issues lets you express your views. Adopt the attitude that by voicing your concerns, you are contributing to the growth of the organization.

You may find that a position of your organization places you in conflict with positions taken by others in your life, such as your church, your family, or your employer. In such cases, address the problem in an open and forthright manner and you probably will find that issue's power will be defused. You don't have to be in total agreement with an organization for there to be mutual benefit and respect. Keep in mind that in every area of life, others are not always in total agreement with you but still work well with you toward common goals.

5. Can I be an effective leader?

When you reach the point at which you consider taking a position as officer of an association, the above fears and more resurface. By the time your involvement is this deep, though, you'll likely be comfortable in dealing with these anxieties, because you'll realize they are offset by rewards and personal satisfaction.

The new doubts will be the same ones your predecessors recall: Will I have the support of the staff? What will happen to me if the chief executive officer resigns during my term? Do I know enough about finances to keep everything under control? What if a divisive issue arises? Will I be able to deal with it effectively? Will the economy allow me to meet fund-raising and membership goals?

In the final analysis, you'll have to answer these and other questions. However, ask for advice from appropriate people within the association. Ask for support in making your decisions. Communicate your desires and concerns to your family, friends, and business associates. If you are honest in your objectives and communicate them effectively, you will get a clear picture of your chances for success as a volunteer leader.

Conquering fear on any level creates satisfaction. Using the environment of an association to expand your horizons is truly rewarding. If you love win-win situations, volunteering is for you. You can grow as an individual, hone your business and communication skills, contribute to your self-esteem, and receive credit and peer recognition. Who else wins? The organization you serve and the people around you.

Ken Klein, a certified graduate remodeler, is president of Kleinco Construction Services, Inc., Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a former member of the board of the National Association of Home Builders, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Leadership: An Association Magazine Supplement for Volunteer Leaders 1993; volunteer involvement in an association
Author:Klein, Ken
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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