The Secret to Successful Member Engagement: Volunteerism

volunteerism for membership organizations

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” – Author Unknown.

Volunteerism: Return for Engagement

Let’s just acknowledge up front that the most engaged members in any type of association or nonprofit are our volunteers. I would add that we used to view our volunteers as extensions of our staff—people we could rely on to take on an entire project and get it done.

Alas, doctor no longer. One secret to successful membership engagement, then, is understanding the revolution in volunteerism, driven in part by Millennials’ and Gen Xers’ preferences and, in part, by the response to fluctuating job and economic opportunities.

In other words, if you want to double down on engagement, you need also to look at how to engage more members in volunteering by first getting a handle on what volunteering means to your membership in the new era of generational segmentation.

What Has Changed With Volunteerism?

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Gandhi

The existential, human reasons for volunteering have not altered one bit. And, your members and donors are no different.

  • Members still want to volunteer to feel helpful.
  • Members do want to give back or “pay it forward.”
  • Member do want to use the experience to learn someone or something new.

Very few would argue that volunteer involvement strengthens communities, right? This is because volunteer involvement mutually benefits both the volunteer and the organization. And, volunteer involvement is based on relationships. It is reciprocal because it creates opportunities for voluntary organizations to accomplish goals by engaging and involving volunteers.

You tell me and I forget. You teach me and I remember. You involve me and I learn. – Ben Franklin

Association Trends reports three new trends driving the new volunteerism:

  • Micro volunteering: In the same way as the landscape of fundraising has changed—think Bernie Sanders campaign’s $27 individual gifts adding up to millions—the universe of volunteerism has shifted to acknowledging that while a tiny handful of dedicated volunteers can make a difference, a great number of volunteers who each do what they can in a coordinated way has a much more significant impact.

Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. – Author Unknown

  • Millennials’ demand for variety. How does that affect their volunteering? They may want to vary their volunteer time as well as the tasks they agree to take on. Maybe they will volunteer five hours a week in summer only, or once a month in winter. Perhaps they agree to work on one event a year or mentor five new members a year.

This Huffington Post article details how to approach Gen Xers and Boomers online to attract them as volunteers.

If you have the right software to segment your membership and you have taken the steps to discover your members’ preferences, your software also should support your shift to creating a new framework for volunteerism in your Association or nonprofit.

  • The volunteer process must be personalized: As Andy Steggles, President, Higher Logic,  a leader in cloud-based community platforms writes in Association Trends, “Members want to personalize their volunteer journeys…. A myriad of new tech tools, from better data management to automation, can help you nudge members towards the right volunteer opportunities – they’re no longer grasping around in the dark for a task or simply becoming unengaged.”

The Volunteer-Member-Donor Link

Reviewing and revising your approach on volunteers has another benefit for your Association or nonprofit—a financial benefit. Donors often are inspired to make a gift or increase a gift when they view your organization as one which thrives on volunteer participation. It appears that the enthusiasm of volunteers is contagious. Participation equals a return on engagement.

That leads to one more key point: you cannot thank your volunteers—or your donors—too often. Find as many ways as you can to help them feel appreciated. This will spark more of your volunteers to recommend your organization to others too.

Software for Volunteer Management

Does volunteer management software exist? Yes it does!

In my opinion, the backbone of a nonprofits shift to working with the new volunteerism effectively is your database software and community management software too. These two systems together could be the essential must have tools in your organizations success moving members along their volunteer commitment journey.

Until next time keep SmartThoughts in mind.

volunteerism in associations


Using Social Technology to Unlock Value & Productivity

Social CRM and Community Management Software

Every non-profit organization has one thing in common with commercial enterprises – they want to achieve more with less. However, that may be where it ends because at the end of the day a for-profit enterprise wants to maximize its profits by delivering the greatest value-for-money to its customers when they buy its products and services. While a not-for-profit enterprise wants to maximize its value to its constituents by providing the most use to its members, volunteers, staff, via their participation, dollar and cents are not the primary objective for sure.

In this article, I outline the value of social technology today in the nonprofit sector.

Change with Social Technology

I read an article written by IBM some time ago that stated that over one and half billion people visited a social media site. And, you can be sure that a lot of them had something to say whether good, bad, or indifferent. Social media now affects virtually every area of life from sporting events to world politics and most certainly business. Social media has changed the relationship between nonprofit organizations and their constituents, sponsors and even employees. If you are in need of some more ammunition, here are some figures I picked up on the web that provide a sense of the present scale of the rapidly growing social media phenomenon:

  • 1.43 billion people worldwide visited a social networking site last year (Worldwide Social Media Usage Trends)
  • Three million new blogs come online every month (The Latest 27 Social Media Facts, Figures and Statistics )
  • Last year, one million new accounts were added to Twitter everyday (3 100 Fascinating Social Media Statistics and Figures )
  • Facebook has 850 million active users every month (4 Facebook Marketing Infographic: 100 Things you Need to Know )
  • 80 percent of internet users say they prefer to connect with brands via Facebook
  • 65 percent of social media users say they use it to learn more about brands, products and services (6 Nielsen Social Media Report)

The most recent knock in the head about this topic came the other day when I reread a report published by McKinsey Global titled The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies shares amazingly useful research about how non-profit organizations can make best use of social technology. And, describes exactly what social technology is and how nonprofits are benefiting from it’s use today.

What is Social Technology?

In a nutshell, social technology refers to any information technology (IT) products and services that let people work together. People, in effect, become members of an online community (or more than one community). The community exists so they can share ideas, thoughts, knowledge, projects, processes, etc, with other community members. Everyone can then learn from, add to, modify and use the information being shared.

Communities can be ‘closed’ so only certain individuals can join, contribute to, and benefit from the knowledge, or they can be ‘open’ so anyone who has a good reason to join may do so.

The McKinsey report emphasized the commercial value of social technologies, but recognized that the benefits were not limited to for-profit enterprises. Just for some background, its research indicated that:

  • 1.5 billion people use social networks, and that 90% of all businesses said they benefited from communicating with their marketplace.
  • Knowledge workers spend about 28 hours every week searching for information, writing emails about information and collaborating with others who are involved in similar activities.
  • Knowledge workers could improve their productivity by 20 – 25% just by improving how they collaborate with each other, and their customer base.
  • Social technology enables faster, cheaper and more accurate communication between company employees, themselves, and between employees and customers. The result is more ideas, greater accuracy, speedier product development, faster distribution, better customer service, improved loyalty, lower costs, and higher margins.

How Can Non-Profits Benefit from Social Technology?

Every organization can create online communities, gather and share ideas, and increase efficiency and effectiveness by making it easier for everyone to:

  • Communicate with each other, both inside and outside the organization.
  • Share ideas, thoughts, worries and problems.
  • Improve on past and current ways of working.
  • Events and Education.
  • Mentoring and Volunteerism.
  • Bringing local groups, committees and chapters together.

This broader and easier way to communicate – and to advertise –  means that non-profits can continue the efforts of engagement beyond the physical to:

  • Gather information about what it does, how it does it, who does it, and who they do it for – and how to do it all better.
  • Educate the public more easily about the organization, its activities, its successes, and its needs.
  • Crowdsourcing funds gets easier and cheaper because as more of the public learn about, become interested and get involved in things, there is less need for hard copy newsletters, direct mail fund requests, traveling to groups to give talks as part of bringing in new funds.
  • Volunteer networks can be expanded more easily.
  • It is easier to manage volunteers when they get and share detailed information that supports efficient action.
  • Having the information makes it easier for them to manage themselves while keeping supervisors informed.
  • Engage people more easily and more frequently.
  • Make more use of that increased engagement – for funding and volunteer support.
  • Spend more time improving the organization so it does achieve more.

Can Social Technology Replace Face to Face Interactions?

Certainly, face to face social interaction will never go away. But, I believe the key is that it doesn’t have to be disconnected once the interaction face to face stops. In other words, social technology can continue the dialogue before, after, and ongoing for your mission. Further beyond the collaboration, the richness of social media data found in networks, communities, blogs, forums and comments on the web and within your private domain can provide exceptional business analytics too.

As the McKinsey report outlines and supported by many other studies over the recent years, the social economy unlocks great value and improves productivity through best use of social technologies. And, building and maintaining a common community becomes so much easier when non-profits use social technology well to extend the life of those interactions.

If you would like to learn more about Social CRM and community management software, we can help guide your search.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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