Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Wrong Way to Recruit Volunteers

Here's the wrong way to recruit volunteers.
Step One: Post the Following Announcement: We are looking for volunteers to serve on the XYZ committee. Please Join.

Step Two:  Take all comers.
The problem with this approach is, quite simply, a lack of quality control.
The Three Golden Rules of Volunteer Recruitment

Instead, consider The Three Golden Rules of Volunteer Recruitment:
  1. Make clear the "stakes of winning." People are motivated by meaningful challenges. Take care to articulate why a particular volunteer assignment constitutes a challenge that deserves a member's personal time and commitment (i.e.., it's not just a committee assignment, it's an adventure!).
  2. Carefully match the strengths/talents/experiences of the volunteers to the nature of the assignment. Research on performance in the workplace shows the importance of matching people's strength to the tasks they are assigned. The same is true for volunteers.
  3. Be prepared to spend the time necessary to get the right volunteers. Think "Return on Investment" - the time you spend on this will pay off in good work.
And here's a final idea: consider asking prospective volunteers to submit proposals on why they would be a good fit for the assignment. It sends a message that you are expecting great things from your volunteers.

'nuff said!

Related articles:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When Volunteers Criticize: Beware of Emotional Triggers


In a prior post, When a Volunteer is Cruel to Staff, I discussed the most difficult of volunteers. When staff encounters harsh criticism and feels disrespected it leads to emotions such as anger and frustration. This raises the question: How does one respond when emotionally triggered? One can learn to speak skillfully when confronted by such as person. Here are two approaches to use in such a situation:

Using these techniques, and training your volunteers to use them, can significantly reduce tension and conflicts.

Related articles:

Need help building a productive partnership with your volunteers or chapters? Give me a call!

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to Get Better Feedback from Volunteers

Let's suppose you want to get meaningful feedback from your volunteers; the kind of insights that will help staff improve their performance in support of the volunteers. So you ask, "How can we improve?" In response, you often receive comments that are so vague they fail to be of much use. 

The "More? Less? Better? Different?" approach

The goal is to elicit feedback that is specific enough to be actionable. That's where the "More? Less? Better? Different?" approach comes in. It will help volunteers think about their experiences and articulate their feedback in a manner useful to staff.

Begin by asking the volunteer, "Think about a specific area that has major impact on your experience as a volunteer. Now think about what feedback you might give to staff regarding that." Next, ask the following to engage the volunteer in a dialogue.
  • Is something you want more of from staff? 
  • Is there something you want us to do less of? 
  • Is this a specific area where we can do a better job? 
  • Or is there something new or different we should be doing in support of the volunteers?"

The Bottom Line: This approach makes it easier to have a dialogue with volunteers and to probe for useful ideas. Good luck!

P.S. This approach also works with chapters.

Related articles:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When a Volunteer is Cruel to Staff: My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical

When it comes to people, some are kind and wonderful; others are not so delightful. Therefore, it is no surprise that from time-to-time you may encounter a volunteer who is overly critical, derisive or even outright mean. For that reason, I would like share a story about my experience with such a person.

My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical

As I have noted before, I was once a Community Organizer and was responsible for starting a community group in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Detroit. That's where I met Mr. Cruel & Critical.

I had just finished the arduous, two-month task of recruiting leaders and members for the group and had just organized the first big neighborhood meeting. It went went well, but, as you might imagine, there were a few glitches...and Mr. Cruel & Critical was waiting.

I ran into him a few days after the meeting while walking the neighborhood. He proceeded to list every small detail that wasn't right. Then he escalated into a more vicious attack on my competency. By the time he was done, I was badly shaken and demoralized. 

Later that day, I spoke with my head organizer, Madeleine. She shook her head knowingly. "Ah, Mr. Cruel & Critical! There's often one in every neighborhood. They do nothing to help organize the group..." 

I nodded and said, "You're right. This guy did nothing to help -"

"That's right," Madeleine said. "All he did was show up at the big meeting and sit in the back row. Right? And he didn't volunteer to do anything?" At this point, I was nodding vigorously in agreement.

"That's Mr. Cruel & Critical for you! All he knows is how to criticize. He is just a loudmouth do-nothing. Now think about the people in the neighborhood group who actually did something. Think about Floyd who hosted the organizing meetings at his house, Delores who went door-to-door recruiting people to the first neighborhood meeting and George who just agreed to be the spokesperson at next week's meeting with the Police Department.

"Who are you going to believe? Mr. Cruel & Critical? Or will you believe Floyd, Delores and George?" On reflection, I understood.  Furthermore, I realize that allowing Mr. Cruel & Critical to influence my emotions would undermine my ability to help the good people such as Floyd, Delores and George. They had confidence in me and together we were making a difference in the neighborhood.

Who Loves Ya Baby?

I hope this story will help if you ever encounter a Cruel & Critical volunteer. There are many good volunteers in your organization who appreciate you. The work you do does matter! For those you who remember the old Kojak TV series, just imagine the good volunteers are saying to you, "Who loves ya baby?"

This how good volunteers feel about staff!

Related articles:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dealing with Volunteers...It's a Tough Business!

"It's a tough business requiring ridiculous amounts of
resistance to self doubt and a skin made of Teflon."

Today's post will be more on the philosophical side (as opposed to pragmatic, how-to advice). The above observation surely applies (at times) to the association management profession and the challenges of dealing with volunteers. However, it came to me as encouragement from a successful author, not from an association colleague.

You see, in addition to being a consultant, I am also an aspiring author. My first manuscript has already been rejected by more than 150 literary agents. OUCH! This rejection rate is typical. It is also daunting, demoralizing and even heartbreaking. 

What should I do? Foolishly, perhaps, I just finished my second manuscript. Guess what? This means more rejections, lots of them. Each rejection hurts. But that's just the way of the publishing business; you gotta keep going! 

It does seem ridiculous for even as I write this blog post, I am planning my third novel!!!

I am sharing this experience because I see a number of parallels between the travails of dealing with literary agents and dealing with volunteers. It is just the nature of the business: it is hard to be appreciated and to feel valued for your effort. No matter how well you do, there will always be criticism. If you happen to catch an agent on a bad day, you can be rejected solely based on his mood. Likewise, volunteers get moody and, well, you get the picture.

The Bottom-Line: It's often tough going. Sometimes it ain't pretty. But when it comes to dealing with volunteers, hang in there. And when you're having a bad moment, just try to imagine my in-box filled with countless rejection letters from all those unappreciative literary agents. 

Until next time...onwards!

Related article:  Finding the Confidence to Deal with Volunteers

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding the Confidence to Deal with Volunteers

Let’s be honest, the task of dealing with volunteers, though often rewarding, is very challenging.  From time-to-time, most association professionals will find themselves in a situation that is intimidating and even a bit painful emotionally. It can sap our enthusiasm and undermine our confidence.

For that reason, I would like share a valuable lesson in confidence building I learned when as a Community Organizer.

An Intimidating Neighborhood

My first assignment was in one of the worst-off neighborhoods in the Detroit: abandoned houses were everywhere, a few blocks looked more a war zone than a neighborhood.  In addition, my first set of contacts with residents went poorly; it seemed the rats were more interested in my activities than were the neighbors. I was feeling intimidated and afraid.  

Then, with a little coaching from a fellow organizer, I found my voice. I began to speak in the following manner:
My purpose for being here is because your neighbors want better policing (and other city services). 
"I am a trained Community Organizer; I can help you put together a neighborhood group to improve conditions in your community.
"I am doing this because I want to see good things happen for the people in this neighborhood.”

Learning to speak in this manner helped me stand my ground and sell myself to people. It was a powerful way to articulate my purpose, my competencies along with my genuine desire to help people.

An Intimidating Chairperson

A few years later, I found myself employed on the marketing staff of an association. One of my first assignments brought me face-to-face with a rather headstrong member who was chair of the Membership Committee. He had been described as a bit of loose cannon with little interest in or the patience for planning.

With that in mind, I harkened back to my organizing experience and prepared myself our first meeting. Here is what I said to him and the entire committee:

My purpose is to make sure the committee has a well thought out, comprehensive membership plan.
"I can help you because of my expertise in this area; I have seen what works and what doesn’t work in other associations. 
"Six months from from now, I want to see the members of this committee armed with the knowledge they need to help grow the membership. I want you to have a plan to pass along to future members of this committee (as well as provide valuable data to the staff). ”
The simple act of being able to articulate this statement gave me confidence and allowed me to stand my ground with the Chair. As a result, I was able to gain his support to proceed.

Renewing Your Confidence

Why not practice this approach so you are prepared the next time you have a challenging or intimidating encounter with volunteers? Use the following template; practice what you might say to your volunteers. In fact, get together with fellow staff to practice and improve.
"My purpose is to: ________ [describe the outcome or priority that needs to be addressed].
"I know I can help because: ________ [explain how your skills and experience as an association professional are of direct value to the situation].
"I want to see: ______ [describe a favorable improvement or successful scenario that is desirable to the volunteers]."
Good luck finding your voice!

Contact me for information about a Partnership Tune-up to improve relations with your volunteers or chapters as well as coaching and training. 

Related article:  When a Volunteer is Cruel to Staff: My Encounter with Mr. Cruel & Critical 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Don't Volunteers Do Their Job? Use the ACORN Test to Diagnose Why.

In my previous post, I listed four reasons volunteers may not be doing the job we ask of them. Today I would like to borrow another technique from the field of Performance Management, the ACORN test. It was designed to help managers develop a clear statement a job's mission. I have modified it so it can be applied to associations and nonprofits. If you find volunteers are not doing their jobs, the ACORN test may help you diagnose why. 


There is a definable result (i.e., as opposed to volunteers simply attending a certain number of meetings). 


Volunteers have sufficient ability/resources to achieve the desired outcome.

Overall Objective

The accomplishment represents the primary reason a member volunteered.


The volunteer’s duties must have minimal conflict with other responsibilities (e.g., job, family, etc.).


There is a way to measure/determine success.

Check out my guide to helping volunteers succeed

Click here to download

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four Reasons Volunteers Don't Do Their Jobs

I was recently rereading a textbook on the topic of Performance Management (which deals with the topic of using positive reinforcement to improve performance). It noted four basic reasons why people don't do what we want them to do on the job. When modified for volunteers, the reasons are:

There is nothing profound about these questions and that's exactly the point! So ask yourself:
  • Are volunteers clear about the outcome of their assignment?
  • Do volunteers know how they will work together, and with staff, to achieve this outcome?
  • What issues or problems might discourage or prevent volunteers from accomplishing their goals?
  • Is the assignment seen as desirable by the volunteers? Is it a good match for their interests, passions and talents?
'nuff said!

Related articles:

Contact me if you need a Partnership Tune-up to help improve volunteer-staff relationships in your association!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Burgers and Fries! Should Your Chapters be More Like Five Guys?

Burgers + Fries = Focus!

Focus! Focus! Focus! That is not only the title of this blog, it's what your chapters should be all about. And for a role model, I am recommending Five Guys Burgers, the fastest growing restaurant chain in the United States. 

"We do two things really well, burgers and fries. That's it!"

I was listening to an interview with Five Guys' founder, Jerry Murrell, as he explained, "We do two things really well, burgers and fries. That's it!" Perhaps that's explains why Five Guys was voted America's favorite burger chain

Fastest growing! America's favorite! Burgers and fries! Got it?

"Our chapter does two things well. That's it!"

Do two things well. That seems like a good formula for success, especially for chapters. After all, the typical association chapter has limited resources and staff (if it has staff). What if, in lieu of submitting the typical strategic plan, each of your chapter had to complete the following: "Our chapter does two things well. We do ____ and we do _____. That's it." 

Let's think about how this philosophy plays out this in terms of a chapter's image/brand in the mind of its members.

The member on the right is clearly happy, that's obvious. But what's up with the member on the left: why complain about the coffee? To understand, consider this statement by Jerry Murrell, “My fear was that we’d add something new and not be good at it, then some reviewer would write about how bad our coffee was and not how good our burgers and fries are.” 

Get it? You want your members talking about what your chapters did well, not the other stuff. A chapter might be doing something really well, but if it overextends then something suffers in terms of quality. When that happens, it will stick in the mind of the member. 

The Bottom-Line:  I offer this a "food for thought" (pun intended). Ask yourself, "Are we asking our chapters to do too much with their limited resources? Would our members be better served by learning a lesson from Five Guys Burgers? Or would we rather have our chapters known for their bad coffee?"

'nuff said!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Vicious Dog and a 357 Magnum: A Tale of Mutual Respect

Mutual respect between staff and volunteers, between staff and chapters: it is a goal for which we constantly strive. At times it can be challenging, frustrating and bewildering. Sometimes there are conflicts and hostile situations. But in all probability, you have never faced a situation involving a vicious dog and a loaded gun (and not just any gun, a 357 Magnum!). Let me tell my tale...

The Vicious Dog

A number of years ago I worked as community organizer in a low-income neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa. As you might imagine, I encountered a range of emotions during my efforts from welcoming to hostile. One day, however, I knocked on the door of a young woman - her name was Bonnie. I explained my purpose (to help the neighbors organize a community action group). She told me she wasn't interested and asked me to leave.

A few days later, I returned hoping she might change her mind. She answered the door and shook her head. "C'mon in," she said, "I want to show you something." Once inside, she led me to the kitchen and opened the door leading down to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs was an extremely large German shepherd who, after taking one look at me, snarled and charged. Bonnie shut the door just in time to save me from the vicious canine. "My dog and I don't want you around here." 

The Gun

I nodded meekly and made to leave. "Wait!" she said, picking up an oversized purse that was on her kitchen table. From it, she retrieved an unnecessarily large gun. "It's a 357," she declared ominously. "I don't ever want to see you on my street again." I gulped rather loudly and began tiptoeing away. "And yes, it's loaded," she explained.


Mutual Respect!

What I did next might have turned out to the stupidest thing I have ever done (as well as the last). I happened to notice a drawing above the kitchen table in the style of a political cartoon. It portrayed the mayor of Des Moines being kicked in the butt by a woman who looked like Bonnie (the very same Bonnie who was, at that moment, threatening me with a gun). "Is that you in the drawing?" I asked.

"Yes!"  Suddenly her expression changed; she seemed pleased.

"It's quite a good drawing," I observed, "Who's the artist?"

"I drew it," she said proudly.

It turned out Bonnie had a softer side, a side with considerable talent: she was an artist. We began talking and I asked if she had any other cartoons or drawings she might show me. She fetched a folder and for the next half hour, we sat at her kitchen table discussing her drawings, many of which were quite wonderful. I then confessed that I had wanted to be a comic book artist, but lacked the talent. At that point, she patted me on the arm and said encouragingly, "Babe, you can do it; you just gotta practice your drawings."

Can you imagine, in a space of thirty minutes we went from a possible homicide to a shared interest in drawing cartoons and comics? As I got up to leave, Bonnie said, "It's okay for you to come around the neighborhood. Feel free to drop by anytime." We had achieved mutual respect!

This was, granted, an extreme case, but it illustrates that the challenge of building mutual respect between staff and volunteers may not be as daunting as it sometimes seems.

The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nine Questions to Measure the Strength of the Volunteer - Staff Relationship

Here are nine questions volunteers can ask to help measure the strength of the Volunteer – Staff relationship. If your volunteers answer “yes” for most or all of these questions, congratulations! you have a healthy partnership!
  1. Do I know what is expected of me as a volunteer? Are we in agreement about: a) which activities and functions should be done only by the volunteer; and b) those activities and functions that should be done only by staff?
  2. Does staff provide me with the materials and support I need to do my work well?
  3. Does staff understand and appreciate the priorities of the volunteer?
  4. Do I receive recognition or praise from staff for doing good work?
  5. Does the staff at staff seem to care about me as a person? Even better, do I have a friend among staff?
  6. Is there someone on staff who encourages me, either to take on a new challenge or to learn from a failure?
  7. Does my opinion count among staff?
  8. Does staff believe the work of the volunteers to be important? Do they make me feel important?
  9. In the last few months, has someone called to see how things are going and whether I have made progress towards meeting my goals?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do You Have a Gameplan for Listening to Volunteers and Chapters?

I have posted a draft of a new guide: A Gameplan for Listening to Volunteers and  Chapters. Please take few moments to review and send any comments to:


The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

Check out my guide to partnership building!
Click here to download

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Problem-Solving Exercise You Can Download

Here is a group exercise you can download and use with your volunteers or staff. It is based on an earlier post, Solve the Right Problem.  

Happy problem-solving!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"We need a Mission Statement because...well, I'm not sure why."

Mission Statements...what are they used for? What difference do they make? Let's consider a scenario that has probably taken place in your organization: there is a meeting (staff, board, whomever) and you are trying to maintain focus and help the group make a sound decision. Will the Mission Statement help the group achieve that?

Challenge yourself to imagine a real-life scenario in your organization where the Mission Statement will make a practical difference. What are the circumstances under which this would occur? Who is involved? The real test of a Mission Statement is not how poetic or inspiring it sounds; the real test lies in its practical application.

No wonder developing a practical Mission Statement seems a Herculean chore! To get started, try completing these two sentences.

What were your answers?

The Bottom-Line: Too often, the process of crafting a Mission Statement becomes an exercise in wordsmithing, developing pithy yet lofting sounding statements of an ideal future. While I have nothing against well-written, inspiring Mission Statements, I happen to believe that there ought to be a practical purpose to the exercise. Completing the two sentences above will help you to do that.

'nuff said!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Three Practical Strategies for Tough Economic Times

Here are three practical, “association-friendly”strategies for these tough economic times.
  • Go for low cost or no cost: Before spending more money, maximize the impact of what you already do. Use a “guerilla marketing” approach to find smart, quick, inexpensive and creative techniques to deliver your message.
  • Strengthen your message before spending more money: The more powerful the message, the better the ROI from your marketing budget. Begin by strengthening your association's ability to articulate the benefits of membership.
  • Start with the low hanging fruit: A practical starting point is the search for “low hanging fruit” – the easy opportunities to introduce new products and services or to create cost-effective synergies between programs and departments.


The Connecting With Members Workshop

These hands-on workshops put staff and volunteers to work improving your association’s marketing materials. You will learn to:
  • Strengthen the selling power of your message.
  • Refocus on target specific segments within your membership.
  • Utilize guerrilla marketing approaches to priority setting and action planning.

 The Membership Marketing Workout

This team-based program focuses on specific ways to improve membership recruitment and retention. The team sets specific membership targets and then gets to work:
  • Creating a “Membership Marketing Opportunity Matrix.” This tool maps out benefits, target audiences and delivery vehicles so you can maximize synergy among departments.
  • Using the Matrix to identify “low hanging fruit” – opportunities for improved marketing and cost-savings.
  • Using Creative Problem Solving techniques to brainstorm new benefits. 
  • Crafting hit-the-ground-running-action plans.

The High Performance Chapter Collaboration Workshop

This goal-oriented workshop teaches chapter staff, volunteers and national staff how to:
  •  Apply the principles of Trust-Based Leadership™ to move past old issues.
  •  Organize Grassroots Innovation Teams so the best ideas from the chapter level can be used everywhere.
  •  Launch successful partnership programs between chapters and the national office.

For more information, contact me at:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

From time-to-time, friction arises between an association and its Commercial Members, between buyers and sellers. It is a common occurrence and while no one enjoys dealing with complaints or griping, there is a way forward that improves the relationship:  The Partnership Tune-up.

A few years ago, I conducted a tune-up that helped repair fraying relationships between an association's Institutional Members and its Commercial Members. The results were well worth the effort, getting both sides back on track, culminating in a stronger partnership.


1. Ask, "What role should the association play in strengthening the relationship?"

This was the central question emphasized throughout the tune-up process. It conveyed an important message, "Let's get beyond finger pointing and blaming to figuring out what is necessary to improve the relationship. Tell us what needs to be done. We are all members of this association; it is important that we collaborate to make things better."

The goal of this question was to shift the conversation towards a positive state.

2. The Commitment to Listen Means Conversations, not Surveys

We wanted to hear what both sides had to say. To accomplish that, we conducted two sets of phone interviews: one with the directors of member institutions and the other with the Commercial Members. Conducting in-depth interviews was essential if we were to give members the chance to have their say (and yes, even rant a bit). It allowed for a richness of interaction that a survey could not provide.

The reaction was encouraging. Nearly every member interviewed expressed his or her gratitude; they appreciated the fact that someone took the time to listen (FYI: the average time for each interview was 40 minutes). 

3. Emphasize Shared Goals for the Path Forward

There was good news! It turns out that despite what seemed like numerous complaints, there was more agreement than disagreement between the two parties. In other words, they were in sync about priorities and what improvements to make. This provided the foundation for a Path Forward plan agreed to by a working group consisting of Institutional Members and Commercial Members.

Bottom-Line: The partnership between associations and its commercial members requires maintenance from time-to-time. Does your association need a Partnership Tune-up?