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Take the Meh out of Membership: Microvolunteering

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices


The traditional volunteer experience — committee service — doesn’t work for most members. They’re not able or willing to commit the time and energy it takes to serve on a committee. Too many other options compete for their time – work, family, friends and other nonprofits.

The economy has its effect too. Trade associations now have a smaller pool of prospective volunteers because company members experienced staff reductions. The employees left behind don’t have the time or permission to volunteer like they used to. Eric Lanke saw this at his association: “Volunteer participation was falling off and, unlike our membership and attendance numbers, it didn’t spring back the way so much of our industry did.”

This is National Volunteer Week, the perfect time for associations to give microvolunteering a serious look.

Microvolunteering: big ugly word, big beautiful impact

Micro, ad hoc and episodic volunteering – they all mean volunteering in small increments of time. Associations have always had microvolunteers — members helping out at the registration table before an event or leading a table discussion during a workshop. But how many associations intentionally identify and market these opportunities?

Microvolunteering deserves a closer look because:

  • A larger pool of volunteer talent brings new and diverse perspectives, voices, talents and networks to your association.
  • More hands on deck leads to more programs, greater member satisfaction and increased non-dues revenue.
  • Microvolunteering can be a stepping stone to committee or board service for the member and a deeper leadership bench for the association.
  • Volunteering is a benefit of membership. The experience can range from being fun to transformational. Don’t deny the majority of your members that opportunity. Make it easier for them to have that experience.

Find the hidden membership treasures

First, take a fresh look at all your programs, practices and projects to identify hidden microvolunteering opportunities. Pay particular attention to committees. Often committees unintentionally hoard involvement opportunities by only asking those around the table to take on small jobs. Ask each committee to select volunteer liaisons who can bring microvolunteering opportunities to the staff’s or membership’s attention.

Share these familiar microvolunteering opportunities with all your members:

  • Make calls to welcome or check in with new members and to collect data or get feedback from existing members.
  • Visit, write or call policymakers during political action campaigns.
  • Greet and/or accompany new members and prospects at events.
  • Help out at meetings and conferences.

Look for activities that members can do from their homes or offices:

  • Review and proofread publications and marketing materials.
  • Test website and mobile website usability.
  • Report back from other industry conferences and meetings.
  • Provide short reviews of books, videos or other industry content.
  • Help with social media by writing blog posts or submitting links for curated posts.

Never stop marketing

Once you’ve identified new microvolunteering opportunities, you must compete with all the other distractions in your members’ lives. Market the benefits of volunteering using every channel you have.

  • Feature a rotating volunteering opportunity on your homepage.
  • Keep a dedicated web page updated with all your ad hoc volunteer opportunities.
  • Announce opportunities in your newsletters, magazine, Facebook page, LinkedIn group and Twitter. Create a Twitter hashtag specifically for volunteering announcements, for example, #asaevol.
  • Feature a volunteer opportunity of the week on your homepage and elsewhere so members become familiar with the variety of ways to get involved.

We’ve got a live one!

When a member agrees to volunteer, encourage them to invite another member to join them. Members want to meet other members, make that easier. Share the names of fellow volunteers or attendees at upcoming events. Create an online community group for volunteers working on similar tasks.

By encouraging microvolunteering, you give your members the chance to become part of the association community in the way that works best for them.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who, like many other busy professionals, prefers microvolunteering to traditional committee service.


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Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Comments (5)

  • plasticspro


    What the article points out is great. However, you miss key elements to the recruitment efforts – someone who does the work and takes the time to do this enegagement of the new volunteer. Someone has to crunch the data, someone has to pick up the phone or write the email/note, someone ahs to take the time to do the outreach. As more and more associations rely on volunteers to do staff functions, there exists a time crisis for the extablished volunteers who end up doing the tried and true outreach and administration. In fact, I want ot microvolunteer – but no one else does the other organizational work. You can’t get by without some adminstration – treasurer, secretary, chair, etc. when no one wants to take the time to fulfill the infrastructure needs, who sets up the framework for the micro volunteer?


    • Deirdre Reid


      You’re right. A shift in the way we approach volunteerism requires a shift in organizational practices. Associations who are serious about member retention will invest staff time in volunteer recruitment and engagement. Late last year I blogged about the need for volunteer management (or member engagement) positions at associations: http://blog.avectra.com/changes-to-the-association-organizational-chart-in-2012/.

      Technology can help to an extent. Using automated tools, like Avectra’s A-Score or Moves Management, can provide a personal touch while reducing staff time by sending out automatic emails to volunteers when they take specific actions or reach milestones. But, I agree with you, to make this work will require staff focus.


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