Tag Archives: Volunteers

Get 'Em in Gear

Are non-profit leaders taking volunteers for granted?  The story has it that non-profit executives have only three responsibilities: 1) the care of the board; 2) the feeding of the board; and 3) the care and feeding of the board.  While this observation may draw a smirk, smile or perhaps a groan from your fellow CEO’s, it also reflects a hard truth about getting and keeping volunteers and members involved in today’s time-starved environment.  The time deficit cuts both ways for volunteers and exec’s alike.  The challenge is particularly acute for small associations where volunteers serve dual roles as both leaders/owners of the association and oftentimes as volunteer staff.  Imagine if you will a stockholder showing up at IBM‘s Armonk, NY headquarters to trim up the lawn, stuff envelopes for the latest promotion, or perhaps taking a turn cleaning up the restrooms.  Unimaginable, right?  Yet, isn’t that what we ask of volunteers (okay, maybe not the lawn and bathrooms…oh, you do…really)?

We need their human capital to make our organizations run and the roles for volunteers are changing in unexpected ways.  One example.  Even a rudimentary reading of the new Form 990 regulations makes clear that the accountability stakes for boards have been raised significantly.  Keep a sharp eye on your Directors & Officers Liability Insurance premiums in the years ahead.

The challenge for nonprofit leaders is building confidence and comfort in leading and managing volunteers in this matrix of volunteer engagement.  To be sure some of us prefer to keep volunteers “out of the weeds” focused tightly on the 30,000 foot view alongside power of the policy and strategy juggernaut. With a solid strategy, finely tuned implementation plans and financial business model built on strength, many Boards will happily enjoy the view.  Until they don’t.  And then—even in the face of a strong balance sheet—they will prod for softness and vulnerabilities whether real or imagined.  The unrelenting feeding frenzy brought on by the economic meltdown has dimmed the value of rose colored glasses significantly.

For others of us though, the demand for new service that meet or exceed member’s expectations, marginal growth in existing programs and unpredictable financial resources require we view volunteers through a bifurcated lens as both advisors and sources of human capital essential to the successful execution of an association’s mission and delivery of services.  Like so many things in life, there are real risks and real rewards in learning to lead effectively in this ever-changing volunteer paradigm.

Letting User Contribution Systems Build Your Business

If you only find time to read one business article this month, you may want to make it Scott Cook’s piece in the Harvard Business Review (October 2008) The Contribution Revolution – Letting Volunteers Build Your Business.  Cook, a co-founder of Intuit has done a solid job of outlining the whys and the ways to build a user contribution system which will play a part in the growth and value of businesses ultimately benefiting customers and shareholders alike.  They are what you and I call volunteers.   As Cook points out there are a surprising number of business models that rely almost entirely on user contributions  to add value to the product—think E-Bay or Facebook for starters.  Essentially, E-Bay opened a store on the Internet that relied on its customers to fill the shelves and create an inventory.  Wikipedia blew up the 200 plus year old model of encyclopedias by creating a volunteer led expedition into knowledge capture and the thing that makes Facebook most valuable–the profiles of its users are all created by volunteer labor. 

Cook ponders a number of other user contribution systems at work today and offers a range of constructive ideas about how companies can more effectively engage users in enhancing the value of their products and services.  The article reminds us about the importance of creating truly meaningful user contribution experiences and leveraging those contributions.  Small victories matter and while organizational resistance is to be expected there’s value in ramping up to embed the process organization wide.  In an era when many not-for-profits struggle with volunteer engagement Cook reminds us of the high value propositions user contribution systems make to organizations.  For association professionals, this article is a fresh reminder of the importance and high value potential of volunteers.  It’s also a solid source of fresh ideas for renewing your association’s engagement toolkit yet again.