The art of getting club members to volunteer

Finding volunteers within

Does your group have challenges getting club members to volunteer? How about the parents of members?

I spoke with the leaders of a wholly volunteer-run sports club recently. They have a good number of members who come and play, but are often challenged to find volunteers to do the various tasks that keep the club running. It’s a common problem.

It’s great to join clubs that have no paid staff because it keeps the dues down. The flip side of the coin, though, is rather than spending money, you have to spend your time. Clubs don’t run themselves. Somebody has to do the work. All too often, the bulk of that work lands on the shoulders of a few and they get burnt out.

Many times I’ve heard people complain a club they belonged to closed, even though lots of people were attending, because the organizer quit. And that, unfortunately, is what happens when members or their parents don’t volunteer to share to workload.

So what can you do to get club members to volunteer?

Start by stating expectations—Right from the beginning, state on the membership application form that members are expected to volunteer a certain number of hours every season. Explain the club only exists because people are willing to help out, and that every effort will be made to fit the volunteer time into their schedule. I’ve even heard that some clubs actually assign a dollar amount to each hour, and the member is expected to pay in cash for the time they did not volunteer. That won’t be appropriate for every group, but if the expectation that everyone volunteers is clear from the beginning, you will have fewer problems.

Make it easy for them—As much as possible, offer flexibility. Different people have different schedules, and not everyone is able to volunteer at the time most convenient for you. What tasks can members do that don’t require your attendance? Is there anything that they can do from home? Any tasks that only take a short period of time? Remember, too, that some people don’t have access to a vehicle, or may not have the financial wherewithal to volunteer for things that require out-of-pocket expenses. Offer your members a range of tasks so they can sign up for those that fit their situations.

Make it public—It may feel a bit manipulative, but let’s face it, we do more when people are watching. As Erez Yoeli said in his TED talk, How to motivate people to do good for others, “We know that people care deeply about what others think of them. That we try to be seen as generous and kind, and we try to avoid being seen as selfish, or a mooch.” Therefore, if someone has the opportunity to both volunteer for the club and have that volunteering seen by others, they are more likely to sign up. The reverse is also true; it can be embarrassing – even shameful—to be one of the few who’s name isn’t on the signup sheet. So put the list of available tasks up where everyone can see who has signed up for what – and who hasn’t.

Eliminate excuses—Don’t deny I, we all do it. We find excuses to avoid things we don’t want to do, even when we know we should. How many times have you told yourself that you don’t have time this morning to go to the gym, or that you’re out of floss for your teeth. Excuses. The same is true for volunteering. If you want to get club members to volunteer, you have to eliminate any excuses they may find. Even simple things like making sure there’s a pen attached to the signup sheet – and that it works. I’ve already mentioned building flexibility into the tasks to make it easier. What other excuses might your members come up with, and how can you eliminate them?

Finally, acknowledge and appreciate those members who do volunteer—My appreciation mantra is “every volunteer, every shift”. Make a point of thanking every volunteer every time they help out. Whenever possible, be specific about what you’re thanking them for. A general “Thanks for helping out today” is fine, but if you can say something like “Thanks for organizing the games cabinet, it will make it so much easier to find things now”, it shows that you really noticed their contribution and saw the value in it. Up the ante, too, by acknowledging members’ involvement in a public way. You can comment on it during a meeting, or even post about it on social media (with their permission). Even though the members know that what they’re doing benefits themselves as well as everyone else, it never hurts to have someone acknowledge it.

Getting club members to volunteer can be a challenge. Members do, however, want the club to be successful. You can get them involved by setting clear expectations right from the beginning, making it easy for them to volunteer (and embarrassing not to) and by being diligent in showing your appreciation. Good luck.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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