Blog: September 2017
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Volunteer Engagement - How volunteers can get the most out of their engagement and how associations can to get the most from volunteers

Volunteers are the backbone of every association. From the Board Chair to the committee member, these individuals are often the voice of the membership and provide the insights and actions that associations need to succeed.

Finding the Right Fit

In today’s fast-paced environment members are juggling their professional and personal lives, and fitting in time to volunteer may seem like an impossibility. Offering an array of volunteer opportunities gives members the flexibility they need to make a meaningful contribution to the association.

Members can volunteer on committees, which typically have a 1-2 year term, on a task force which is a shorter term, or a microburst opportunity, which is specific to one task. Some examples of microburst opportunities are greeting new members at the annual conference, introducing speakers at a meeting, or volunteering at a local charity on behalf of the association.

Technology has come so far that another option to engage the right members for the right volunteer opportunity is offering flexibility in how they participate in meetings.  Committee meetings can be done “face-to-face” but virtually through videoconferencing, allowing people to stay in the office but still actively engage in the volunteer opportunity.

Providing flexibility to members allows them to realistically fit volunteering into their already full schedules, and it provides the association with volunteers that are prepared and ready to complete tasks with thought and precision.


Some members are eager to volunteer in any capacity needed, but others are hesitant to volunteer blindly for an association. To ensure that the right members find the right opportunities, the expectations of volunteer roles should be clearly outlined. Outlines should include:

  • Terms: Whether it is a year or multi-year term on a committee or in a leadership role, a six month task force, or a microburst volunteer opportunity, volunteers should clearly understand when their role begins and ends.
  • Responsibilities: The goals and objectives, including how they align with the organization’s strategic plan, for each Committee/Task Force/Microburst Opportunity should be outlined and available to the membership.
  • Schedule: It is important include the estimated meeting schedule. This includes identifying if virtual participation is acceptable, if meetings are weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly and if volunteers are required to go to specific association meetings.


Once a member has selected and been approved for a volunteer opportunity, the next step is to properly train them.  Training volunteers is essential to both the association and the member. This allows for members to understand what they are expected to do and how their work as a volunteer is valued by the association. Training provides the association the opportunity to accomplish more through efficiency and understanding. Two training options are:

  • Creating a Volunteer Handbook: A Volunteer Handbook includes the association’s mission and values, bylaws, strategic plan, the volunteer responsibilities that were outlined in the expectations, and any other pertinent, association-specific information like a communications plan, past committee minutes, and/or staff contact information. Send the handbook out in advance to volunteers and, at the first meeting, go over each section and create a dialogue around the expectations and responsibilities.
  • Creating a Volunteer Orientation: Many associations have Board Orientations in place, but do not have orientations for committee, task force or microburst volunteer opportunities.  The orientation should include the mission and values of the association, the goals and objective of the committee, how the committee work fits into the strategic plan, and references on how to access association bylaws, the full strategic plan and other pertinent information, like a communications plan, past committee minutes and staff contact information. The volunteer orientation can take place online or during the first in-person meeting.


At the end of a volunteer’s term it is important to assess volunteer opportunities with association leadership - this could be the committee chair, Board representative or Board chair), volunteers, and staff. Evaluating what has worked or what didn’t work as identified by each of these groups may demonstrate patterns that will help the association grow and improve volunteer engagement and member satisfaction.

Renee Russo joined McKenna Management in 2017 and serves as Executive Director for several client organizations. Renee has over 10 years of association management experience, including local trade associations and international medical societies. Prior to joining McKenna Management, she served as Director of Administration for the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary tract at PRRI- An Association Management Company. She has a versatile skill set in administration, membership recruitment and outreach, volunteer engagement, board governance, and marketing communications. Renee holds a Bachelors Degree in Marketing Communications from Emerson College.