November 22, 2017
    The Volunteer Model Has Been Disrupted

    How can we harness new, disruptive tools for more targeted volunteer programs?



    The way we volunteer is changing. This disruption to the traditional volunteer structure should be a welcomed change for your association – are you taking advantage of it?

    Volunteering is an act of engagement for any organization. We know member participation is mutually beneficial – with tools like a strong AMS, online community platforms and social networks, we can offer both improved opportunities for our members to interact and learn, as well as a better way to collect their feedback and offer more in the future.

    For most associations, one of the main purposes of the organization is to give members meaningful ways to volunteer. This can be done with their peers or with the organization. It often results in “social learning,” but also has the added benefit of helping build not just a community but a “sense of community” focused around a common area of interest.

    We are in the midst of a movement towards task-based volunteering that upends the traditional volunteer structure in associations. Members with any experience level or interest can participate. The role of committees and chapters has evolved into orchestration of content and opportunities, rather than generating new content on their own.

    The fundamentals of volunteering are still very much intact. But how can we harness new, disruptive tools for more targeted volunteer programs? Any association should consider the following in order to successfully leverage the volunteering disruption:

    1. We now micro-volunteer. The nonprofit sector first identified micro volunteering and pushed to embrace it. Like small financial gifts that add up, the small gift of time spent has the same impact if pooled. The explosion of micro-jobs created an expectation for members to seek out the same. These also become examples for organizations to model. So take inventory of how all your members contribute now – whether it’s through committees, in an online community or with offline advocacy efforts – collect it all and start tracking a different kind of volunteer program.

    2. Millennials demand variety. According the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, 70 percent of millennials volunteer at least one hour a year, and 37 percent volunteer up to 10 hours a year. In addition to that volunteering time, 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014. But their motivators – and the types of opportunities they find inspiring – are different than previous generations. Don’t get bogged down by how the old volunteer model worked for your association. Listen to new members and find what excites them.

    3. Members want to personalize their volunteer journeys. Whether it’s applying gaming theory to your online communities and social networks to encourage member engagement, or it’s simply setting up expectations for how different members will want to volunteer for different tasks, the process is now personal. A myriad of new tech tools, from better data management to automation, can help you nudge members towards the right volunteer opportunities – they’re no longer grasping around in the dark for a task or simply becoming unengaged.

    Steggles is president and chief customer officer at Higher Logic. He can be reached at

    Association TRENDS