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The Big What If ... Volunteer programs were set up like donor programs?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What if associations looked at volunteerism through the lens of fundraising? Specifically, what if an association set up its reward and recognition program ala fundraising categories? So that we’d track – and report – volunteers based on the number of hours or the “amount” given to the association. There would be the Gold, Silver, Bronze volunteership…

I am prompted to ask this what if question as part of Acronym’s Big Idea Month. This has generated quite a few interesting ideas including these by KiKi L'Italien, Jeffrey Cufaude, Jamie Notter, Eric Lanke, Elizabeth Weaver, Shelly Acorn and, one of my fav’s, this one on Association’s as facilitators on Acronym by Jeffrey.

But back to the idea at hand … we usually recognize volunteers based on position, with the national board often getting the greatest accolades and visibility while the writers/teachers get little if any. Recognizing by title has two drawbacks:

First, the traditional model ties value to the title held not the effort & the outcome.

Second, it focuses attention on volunteer leadership not the volunteer program as a whole. 

In fact, there are volunteers and volunteer leaders and the two groups really are different (that’s a whole other blog posting!) and do need different attention. But all need reward and recognition. And absent of both elements, we cannot grow our volunteer pool or develop great leaders.

By shifting from a title-rewards program to tie reward and recognition to activity and outcome, we recognize meaningful and substantial efforts. Plus we shine the light on those adhoc volunteers who consistently give of their time and effort in small ways over many years. This group, according to ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer study, feel the least appreciated and report the lowest satisfaction.

Perhaps in shifting the emphasis over time we can also address the reoccurring problem of having the wrong volunteers in the leader position. We all have lived through that member who was a great “doer” and a lousy leader. Because our volunteer systems are all based on a succession ladder, we move people from doer to leader as a “reward.” A new system that creates Gold and Silver volunteers allows us to focus people on contributing not on climbing the ladder to be rewarded and recognized.

As a bonus to this switch, a reward system not based on title may pave the road to creating a vibrant adhocracy where we loosen the structure and engage more volunteers. So, what if ....

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