Fishing for leaders: How to hook the next generation of volunteers
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Try this at a committee or board meeting: Ask the volunteers how they got their leadership position. Nearly everyone will say, "Somebody asked me."
Willa Fuller, RN, and executive director at the Florida Nurses Association calls it "fishing for leaders." But not all volunteers take the bait. She said the hardest volunteers to hook are the millennials and younger.
"Young professionals do not know much about associations and the importance of leadership," Fuller said.
They have to be asked. She says when you identify potential leaders you have to stick with them to help them understand the benefit of association service.
Fuller reminded me of President Teddy Roosevelt's quote about supporting membership organizations: "Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere."
At another association, I asked for a show of hands: "Do you remember who asked you to serve in a leadership role?"
Nearly everyone raised a hand with a smile. Then they pointed to a dedicated volunteer leader who, during her years of service, had invited many colleagues to serve on committees or the board.
It is the responsibility of board members to reach out and ask, "“Would you be interested in a leadership position in our organization?" This supplements the efforts of a nominating committee charged with vetting candidates.
Though directors cannot make firm commitments about board service, they can pique volunteer interest. Current leaders have the most credibility when they identify future leaders.
The caveat to asking is the importance of follow-through. Few things make a member madder than offering to volunteer and not hearing back from the organization.
Increase interest in volunteer leadership with these practices:
Committee involvement — Use committees as a springboard to board service. High-performing committee members will move up in the organization.
Micro tasks — Break down projects into microtasks so volunteers can commit to shorter engagements.
Shadows — Invite prospective leaders to shadow a current board member. They can learn about leadership through the mentoring by experienced directors.
Leadership academy — Offer curriculum through a series of leadership seminars or an online course.
Seat at the table — Set the board table with an extra seat or two. Invite potential leaders to observe the process. Interest increases after seeing the board in action.
Young professionals — Develop opportunities or a network to engage young professionals and aspiring leaders.
Promote — Inventory leadership opportunities and promote the openings on the association website, newsletter and though announcements.
Orientation — An association with high-performing governance attracts better leaders (nobody wants to serve on a dysfunctional board). Invest in orientation and a leadership manual.
Ascension speed — Not all volunteers can commit five to 10 years to climb a leadership ladder. Reduce prerequisites and shorten the timeline to engage more volunteers.
Job descriptions — Volunteers need to know what is expected. Be clear about expectations for contributing service, time and resources by providing guidelines.
Organizational chart — An organizational chart should depict the association structure, hierarchy and positions to improve understanding of how volunteers can provide help.
Expand opportunities — If there are more volunteers than positions, don't turn away members. Find opportunities to engage everyone.
Nominating committee — Expand the role of a nominating committee to include year-round leadership development. Repurpose it as a "leadership development committee" (LDC) with broader responsibilities for developing the slate of officers, assisting with board orientation and conducting an annual board evaluation.
Celebrate — Current leaders work hard. Celebrate their achievements and recognize them for volunteer service.
When all is said and done, "the ask" has the strongest impact on drawing future leaders. Some members say they actually feel slighted because, "Nobody ever asked me to serve."
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