Got Potential Volunteers Who Are Afraid to Step Up?

Guest Author: Amanda Lea Kaiser


Not so long ago, I joined a board. Before being voted on, the board members interviewed me, and I secretly (maybe not so secretly) interviewed them right back. “How long do you usually spend on your board duties during the average week and month?” I asked. Four hours a week was the reply. Their clocks must have been slow because while I was on that board, most of us were logging 20-ish hours per week, so I have a lot of empathy for this week’s question (empathy for staff and volunteers.)

During the last Member Engagement Lab, Barbette asked:

People are afraid to volunteer because they get stuck in that role. What are ways to get around this?


Good question! People are afraid to step up because the role might be too time-intensive, and the duration might become too long. We are all so busy; these are real concerns.

Many organizations consider volunteerism to be volunteerism with capital “V.” Capital “V” Volunteerism roles are time-consuming positions that take time to work up to and consume lots of time for the duration of the role. Sometimes circumstances conspire so that other members don’t readily volunteer, leaving the incumbent with no choice but to slog it out for another year. Their fellow members see this and become more reluctant to raise their hands and take a turn.

So, how do you avoid this at your organization?


Create volunteer opportunities with a little “v.”

I was talking to the chair of the content committee for one association. The association doesn’t have editorial staff, so the members do the research, interviews, writing, and editing. [I’m popping in another question from the Member Engagement Labs here.] Chris asked,

How [do you] create dynamic engaging content without a marketing or design department?


Chris, maybe you’ve got the talent and interest among members to create a committee to create some of your content as this association did.

Members consider writing, speaking, and being interviewed as volunteer opportunities. You can consider them little “v” volunteer projects. Because they are project work, they tend to be opportunities with a finite time commitment and are perfect to help members start building that volunteerism muscle. Even with these little projects, ensure these projects stay little so you don’t burn out your little “v” volunteers.

The chair of the aforementioned committee told me that committee members were spending too much time writing big, in-depth, heavily researched articles, so they searched for lighter lifts and settled on Q&A articles. These articles were more manageable and fun for the authors while still delivering valuable content.


Scope Down

Scope down, not to be confused with “down periscope🦑😛,” means breaking every volunteer role down to its essential parts and tossing whatever is unnecessary. Perhaps the organization has always hosted four in-person board meetings. There is a lot of time associated with in-person. Can you relieve some of the burden by making two of those meetings convene virtually? Or can you reduce any given role’s burden by slicing off bits for little “v” volunteers?


Rescope Every Time Someone Steps Down

Sometimes, people who have been in Volunteer roles for a long time and are very passionate take on more and more duties, leaving considerable shoes to fill. Rescope the role when they leave and communicate this to interested stakeholders so someone else can be successful while expending a reasonable amount of time.

Just like there is a member journey, there is a volunteer journey. Attract potential volunteers with small projects. At the same time, ensure more significant volunteer roles are manageable. You may find a nice pipeline of qualified, enthusiastic volunteers when redesigning both ends of the volunteer journey.

About Our Guest Author

Amanda Lea Kaiser is a keynote speaker and author of Elevating Engagement: Uncommon Strategies for Creating a Thriving Member Community. Through her research, Amanda is at the forefront of exploring how member and attendee engagement is rapidly changing within professional communities.

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