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Involving other members.

"Gee, I'd really love to help--but I don't have the time."

"I just agreed to volunteer with another group, and I can only stretch myself so far."

"I've been doing this for years. It's time others began paying their dues with this organization."

"I've often expressed my interest in getting involved, but no one ever followed up--so I gave up."

How many times have you heard comments like these from other members of your association?

As an elected leader in your association, your biggest challenge probably is not defining the vision for the group--it's mobilizing members to take action. Member involvement is the name of the game for any association. With it, an organization can move mountains, but without it there's little chance for growth or change.

Despite popular wisdom, people do want to get involved and contribute to something worthwhile. To be effective, programs for member involvement must not only focus on short-term needs but also encourage all members to make more long-term commitments that enrich their lives and the organization.

After many years of observing, researching, and testing different strategies with association volunteers, we've developed a model that enables any organization to mobilize its members and maximize the talent and abilities of its volunteers. Whatever level of leadership you have assumed--large or small, local or national--you can initiate some of these strategies in your trade association, professional society, or nonprofit organization. By doing so, you will begin to break down the old stereotypes and instill a new and more productive approach to increasing member involvement to achieve organizational goals.

Changing trends in involvement

Before starting, however, you'll need to understand the dynamics that have changed the face of volunteerism during the past several years. The three most pronounced changes are job and career demands, lifestyle adjustments, and member expectations.

Job and career demands. The one-income family has all but disappeared in America as the face of the labor force has changed. Many couples, to make ends meet, have both become wage earners. Others have opted to remain in the work force either to retain a preferred lifestyle or to pursue specific personal or professional goals.

Consequently, many people who previously sought volunteer experience as an avenue to develop specific recognition or skills now fulfill that need within the work environment. Also, the workplace increasingly demands more of people. For many, the normal workweek far exceeds 40 hours, leaving little time for getting involved in volunteer activities.

Lifestyle adjustments. While facing increasing demands from the workplace, individuals are taking serious stock in their quality of life. Many have made compromises--longer commutes, increased work hours, more responsibilities--to afford certain amenities. But this has created an imbalance in fulfilling their needs.

More and more people are finding that building better relationships with their children, taking greater interest in activities, enhancing relationships with spouses, and identifying and fulfilling interpersonal needs are more important. The key focus for many is assessing and setting priorities for "what's really important"--which becomes the guiding force when people decide where and how to spend their time.

Member expectations. The factors affecting members outside the organization directly relate to their behavior within it. As the members of your industry or profession take greater stock of their personal and professional needs, they become more specific about where and how to meet those needs.

Societal, economic, and professional demands translate into how people select particular organizations in which to become involved. Whether or not they realize it, the people who belong to your association today have a well-defined series of expectations for the relationship. In years past, they may have simply signed the dues check and forgotten about the association for another year. Now, with limited time to invest, each member looks to the association to fulfill a specific need. And members expect you and the other elected leaders to make sure they're not disappointed.

Myths and realities

While the world has been constantly evolving, most organizations have proceeded with business as usual. Rather than adapt to succeed, these organizations accept what appears to be the inevitable: People are simply not interested in getting involved anymore.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

From talking with thousands of volunteers and working with organizations for more than 15 years, we've identified two critical factors for involvement:

1. People join organizations because they care. They will pay to support a group that shares similar values and beliefs or one that enhances their profession or industry. Being a member thereby allows them to continue to prosper personally and professionally. And as a result of paying dues, they have greater expectations for service from the organization.

2. People, however, have little or no knowledge about how to achieve those expectations within the system. When they purchase a product, it's a tangible item that either delivers an immediate service by working properly or can be returned if it doesn't work.

Association membership is a vastly different type of product--it's intangible. The member's initial expectation is "I have paid my money--where is the service?" The association's typical response is "Welcome. We're delighted to have you as a member." Reality is that "you're now on your own; you're responsible for identifying and determining how to fulfill your specific expectations."

To be competitive in getting members to seek greater involvement, an organization must look at its overall system of operation. It must look at how members are perceived and be prepared to make some modifications.

Your fellow members represent your association's greatest asset and resource ... and the skills they have to offer are just waiting to be tapped. The strategies that will bring about change are not difficult to implement. Volunteer leaders like you are key to making it happen.

Assessing current strategies for involvement

Has your association adapted to the changing needs of its membership? Is it truly ready to help members achieve their expectations? Before looking at the strategies that can enhance member involvement, take a few moments to assess how "member ready" the association is by completing the accompanying "Member Involvement Inventory."

The Volunteer Involvement Process

In any organization, two types of leaders emerge: those who step forward through a self-selection process and those who are targeted for recruitment by current leaders. Most associations use the self-selection process as the prime means of generating new leadership, issuing a call for volunteers at meetings and in association publications.

Although this traditional method has proven effective at times, it means trusting that the member's own perception of skill level is relative to reality. Sometimes, those who step forward to get involved are not quite ready for the positions to which they aspire. The organization is unable to move ahead and in some cases ends up retrenching to survive the period of time this person holds on to the position or task.

The National Association of Home Builders, Washington, D.C., developed its copyrighted Volunteer Involvement Process (VIP) to help members identify the level of involvement they are prepared to give as the primary entry point into the organization. Getting members involved at their level of comfort increases the likelihood that they'll follow through on their commitments.

The overall strategy focuses on fulfilling association goals by first fulfilling member expectations: Members' needs and expectations are the end, not the means, of achieving association goals. The VIP pyramidal approach, which builds commitment over time, not only generates greater member involvement but also ensures a steady stream of emerging leaders.

Some members start at the bottom, while others enter at a higher level. The VIP model demonstrates how easy it is for members to move from one level of involvement to another when it is most appropriate for the member and the organization. Several principles form the foundation of this model (see sidebar, "Basic Assumptions Behind the VIP Model"). They fall into three categories:

1. Member resources. Members have immense talents, abilities, and experiences that can be tapped to support the organization in achieving its goals.

2. Organizational relationships. The relationship for building involvement needs to be cultivated between the organization--not the current elected leaders--and individual members.

3. Commitment process. By developing a relationship in steps, members can build a long-term commitment at their own pace and satisfaction; each volunteer enters the relationship at a different level of intensity.

Climbing the mountain

The VIP model is purposely depicted as a mountain, because that image best represents the nature of the process. The base of the mountain, where many seek to remain, provides stability. Others wonder what lies above. They are willing to step forward--or are encouraged to try something new. As they ascend the mountain, they gain confidence and new skills. Those who climb the entire mountain see far beyond the horizon--almost into tomorrow.

Following is a description of the VIP model and involvement strategies that can be implemented at each level. The focus rests on making appropriate matches between members and the association--which requires an organized method of identifying and documenting the need for volunteers. The more defined the task, the easier it will be to identify and attract the right volunteer for the job.

As you build greater opportunities for many members to take on smaller, more manageable tasks, the base of volunteers broadens. And as you provide support for the members who wish to take on larger tasks and greater responsibilities--in steps, not leaps and bounds--you create more prepared leaders who can help the organization move forward rather than spin in circles.

The base. At the base of the mountain you'll find the majority of members--those who are new to the association, inactive, or "mailbox" members. Untapped potential characterizes this level: Members have a tremendous amount of information, experience, contacts, and knowledge that could be invaluable.

Most members enter the organization at this level but are unsure how to fulfill their expectations within the system. For example, many will wait to be invited to attend an event or function.

Strategy: The most effective strategy at this stage is to gather as much information about the potential volunteer as possible. Profiling the membership--by asking members to complete a form or by conducting one-on-one discussions--will provide information on individual talents, personal and professional experience, and expectations for service from the organization.

You'll also want to learn why a person joined the association and what he or she believes are the greatest concerns and issues facing the industry or profession. Knowing this, you can direct the member to the activities or events that will be of greatest interest in fulfilling his or her expectations.

Profiling sends a powerful message to all members: It implies the association is extremely organized and interested in fulfilling their needs. And the association benefits in the long run.

The foothills. A certain percentage of members decides to attend functions sponsored by the organization. They move on their own to the foothills of the VIP model. Simply by attending, they express an interest in wanting to know more about how to get involved in the organization. Their participation at these events allows them to demonstrate their potential to others in the organization.

Strategy: At the foothills level of involvement, the best strategy for getting members to move from inactivity to attendance is to educate them on what the organization has to offer. The most traditional format is a member orientation, which ideally should go beyond a simple presentation of association benefits and services to present information about each activity or committee.

It's important to tell new or inactive members specifically how getting involved will help fulfill personal or professional goals. For example, point out that serving on the membership committee provides the greatest exposure to the largest percentage of the membership. If a member's expectation is to meet and establish new contacts, the membership committee might fulfill that expectation better than another committee. At this level, the information gathered through profiling proves invaluable.

The ridge. Through self-selection or targeted recruitment, some members move up the mountain to the ridge. They become involved in formal committee activities or assist in implementing plans for special events--tasks that help fulfill the association's goals. At this level of the mountain, they apply their potential to meet their own needs as well as those of the organization.

Strategy: At the ridge level, it's important to give volunteers the support they need to be effective. That means providing them with training on their roles and responsibilities. The more documented support and direct contact with each volunteer, the better. The greater the clarity on how to perform the job, the greater the member satisfaction. And the greater the satisfaction, the more likely it is that volunteers will accept more responsibilities from the same organization in the future.

The summit. Few members seek to climb all the way to the summit, the highest point of all. Like you, members at this level include senior officers, members of the board of directors, and board chairs.

By virtue of your experience in making the climb, you and your fellow leaders realize your potential and are now in positions that can result in significant contributions to the organization. You focus on developing long-term policy and program decisions that will guide the organization into the future--your job is to help the organization prepare for tomorrow as well as serve it today. How do you communicate those roles and responsibilities to members just joining you at the summit?

Strategy: First, it's important to provide them with leadership development training that includes general association information and skills development. By developing skills such as running a meeting, motivating other volunteers, and speaking to the media, these leaders gain insight into how to better work with others--and enhance their personal and professional skills in the process.

In addition, members who have reached the summit must be encouraged and trained to identify and cultivate emerging leaders. In short, elected leaders are also talent scouts. Ensuring a constant flow of actively involved members can be accomplished by

* Instilling a mindset that each leader should accomplish the goal of his or her specific activity or committee as well as perpetually search for talent emerging within the organization.

* Reinforcing a series of values or principles that maintain a positive mindset about others and the organization. Negativity can be deadly; only those who believe others want to get involved will find them.

* Documenting each leadership position (job descriptions) and committee activity (function, goals, historical data) and identifying the association's major tasks that need support. For example, if you as a board member know the legislative committee needs a member who can give dynamic testimony, you might help identify a member who can fulfill that role.

This matching of volunteers and opportunities requires preparatory work on the part of elected leaders and staff members. Yet if associations must depend on members to achieve their goals--and few do not--this strategy makes the difference between those that succeed and those that spin in circles.

Increasing commitment

Each member is as unique in talents and abilities as in personal expectations and desires. Some enter the organization eager to become involved but don't know how or where to start. Others join with greater insight on how to maximize their needs and take steps immediately to get involved.

The challenge for elected association leaders and staff alike is to ensure both types of members are well-served and well-placed in the appropriate activity. Again, the key factor to initiating--and deepening--involvement with today's volunteers is to identify a member's strengths and expectations and make an appropriate match to activities or tasks within the association.

Clearly, not all members would, should, or could rise at the same time to the top of the mountain. But many of the people listed in your association's membership directory could do an outstanding job on some task, no matter what its size or scope. The VIP model keeps current leaders continually on the lookout for emerging leaders. If one member shows great leadership promise but can't devote the time now, he or she may become involved in two years. The process encourages members to assume leadership at a pace that ensures success for them and for the association.

Members who do not step forward to take on activities become prime candidates for mentoring relationships with elected leaders. For example, you may choose to serve as a mentor to a member who only wishes to assume a task requiring little commitment. With you providing guidance, support, and recognition, the member might become a natural choice to handle upcoming activities or tasks of a larger nature. And as self-confidence and commitment to the organization grow, the member will probably begin self-selecting a level of involvement in the association.

No magic spell

It would be great if there were a magic spell one could use to increase member involvement--but there is not. You won't find any quick fixes--but there is an answer in the VIP model. Increasing the involvement of other members is an ongoing process that develops and evolves over time. The ultimate result may not be realized for years, but the excitement and enthusiasm created by such a program is a wonderful legacy.

Member Involvement Inventory

This assessment covers two areas: the environment that currently exists for encouraging member involvement and some tangible suggestions for potential programs or strategies. For each statement, answer always, sometimes, or never, according to the association's current practices.

Share your responses with other elected leaders and, in partnership with the chief staff officer, consider choosing one item in each category to work on this year.

Section I: How my association fosters volunteerism

A S N (always, sometimes, never) @ @
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; includes related articles; member involvement in an association
Author:DeLizia, James S.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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