Why Members Don’t Volunteer: 8 Questions & Concerns Members Have About Volunteering

If you look at the activities of members who renew year after year, you’d probably see a correlation between volunteering and retention. Members who volunteer are more likely to achieve their membership goals, such as connecting with others, finding their community, and learning new skills.

But what about everyone else? When you know why members don’t volunteer, you can help them overcome the obstacles in their way. Let’s get into the head of a member and imagine the questions and thoughts they have about volunteering.

#1: What’s in it for me?

Do your members understand the benefits of volunteering? Dedicate a webpage to describing the benefits of volunteering at your organization. Include a rotating selection of volunteer testimonials and success stories from members who represent different segments and demographics. Their stories will make a bigger impact than any benefit bullet points you come up with.

Explain how volunteering can help members:

  • Build skills and gain leadership experience.
  • Expand their network.
  • Contribute to their professional community.
  • Enhance their sense of confidence, self-worth, and purpose.

Remind them that volunteering looks good on their resume and, according to a 2018 study, could help them earn higher wages.

When posting volunteering opportunities, go deeper on any specific benefits, for example, skills they might develop or experiences they might enjoy. If you’re recruiting a group of volunteers for an event or project, encourage participation by listing the members who’ve already signed up.

#2: Volunteer how?

You can’t assume your members know what volunteering opportunities are available. Publicize all volunteering opportunities in a dedicated section of your website or member portal—the same section that describes the benefits of volunteering.

Create and post a spectrum of volunteer involvement based on the level of time required so you have something for everyone. Under each category, list volunteer activities and link them to a form on your member portal where they can sign up. Keep this list updated throughout the year.

The volunteering spectrum could include:

  • Microvolunteering tasks: making a welcome call to a new member.
  • Temporary assignments requiring more time: peer review of session proposals.
  • Subject matter expertise: writing an article or presenting a session.
  • Committee, council, section, or special interest group service.
  • Leadership: committee chair, board director, or officer.

#3: No one’s ever asked me.

A call for volunteers is an impersonal, “spray and pray” method that isn’t all that effective. According to the ASAE study, The Decision to Volunteer, the most effective method for volunteer recruitment is a personal invitation from a fellow member or staff.

But volunteer recruitment doesn’t just happen without direction. Gather a group of talent scouts—members who find and match members to volunteer opportunities. You could make this an official group or council that takes charge of identifying volunteering opportunities, bringing them to staff attention, interviewing members, and matching them to opportunities.

#4: I don’t have what it takes.

Even the most successful members are vulnerable to the imposter syndrome. Let members know there’s something for everyone and you will match them to appropriate work.

During new member onboarding or the renewal process, encourage members to complete or update their volunteer profile. Ask about past volunteer and leadership experience, existing and desired skills, interests, and membership goals. This information helps you match the member to the right volunteering opportunities. Even better, if your AMS, like MemberSuite’s volunteer management module, has an algorithm that matches members to volunteering jobs based on specific criteria.

Offer volunteer and leadership training to all members so they can acquire new skills and qualify for bigger volunteer ‘jobs.’

#5: I’d like to, but I don’t know the right people.

What do members see when they look at the people serving on committees and the board, or volunteering at events? Do they see the same people every year? If so, they might think these volunteers are all part of the same membership clique.

They’ll naturally conclude that they don’t know the right people to get involved. To them, volunteering and leadership seem like an exclusive club, one to which they don’t belong.

If members don’t see an obvious path to volunteering, committees, and leadership, this lack of transparency is going to stand in their way. If you don’t publicize how to get involved in volunteering and leadership, no one will understand how it really works.

This member perception might also reflect a real problem. How are your volunteers, committee members, and leaders selected? If personal relationships are the only way in, you’re leaving many members on the outside and missing opportunities to bring more diverse perspectives to the committee and board tables.

#6: Is it really worth my time?

Although it’s tempting to pass along laborious tasks to volunteers, those aren’t the kind of microvolunteering opportunities that will attract members. No one wants to spend their free time doing busywork. Time is their most valuable asset, don’t ask them to waste it.

#7: I don’t need that kind of stress.

How demanding are committee, board, and other leadership positions? Look out for two red flags: empty positions or the recycling of the same members through positions because no one else steps up.

Regularly review the responsibilities and expectations for volunteer leaders. Are they realistic for someone who spends 50 to 60 hours at their real job in addition to all their other responsibilities?

Keep an eye on the tasks that committee chairs are assigning to committee members. Are the assignments reasonable for busy professionals? Can committees delegate any work to microvolunteers? Encourage committees to create more opportunities for other members to contribute and make a difference.

#8: Been there, done that, no thanks.

If a member has been burnt by a bad volunteering experience—whether it was at your association, chapter, or elsewhere—they’re unlikely to give volunteering another try. Differentiate your organization’s approach.

  • Match volunteers to the best opportunities so you’re not wasting their time and talent.
  • Provide support and training.
  • Thank them privately and recognize them publicly.

Don’t just shine the light on committee and board members. Track the volunteer hours of all members so you can recognize everyone’s contributions.

Take time to follow up with members who have volunteered so you can learn about their experience, get feedback, and discuss their next steps. Find out how MemberSuite’s volunteer management solution can make this job easier by helping you track and manage volunteer engagement at your organization.

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