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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 50
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2007 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

How do I get our members to show up at meetings and take a more active part in our organization?

Q: I am frustrated. I have a very small group of volunteers who carry the load and a much larger group that merely pay their dues but don't attend meetings and rarely help out on activities.

I have an idea that I want to bounce off of you. I want to send out a motivational letter--a very nice letter to tell all of the members that we miss them and want them to come back to the meetings, but I am afraid that I will anger the members and they might even quit paying their dues. I don't want to lose members, but I am tired of trying to run meetings for a handful of people. I want to remind them of why they joined the organization in the first place and try to renew their enthusiasm. I just keep thinking of how much more they could do to accomplish their mission if members would only show up and get involved. I think that I just might accomplish this task in a letter.

What do you think?


Michelle's questions:

  • Should she send the letter to try and motivate people to get involved?
  • How can she get people to attend the meetings?
  • What should she do?

What do you think? What would you tell Michelle?

A: As I thought about her problem, these are my thoughts.

Michelle's problem reminds me of the professional football game--twenty two people on the field who desperately need rest and 80,000 people in the stands who desperately need exercise. Such is the case in most large volunteer organizations--a few people carry the load while many just pay their dues. In Michelle's case there are season tickets holders who don't even attend the games. How dumb is that?

Membership - Why do people join organizations and keep pay their dues?

Michelle can be excited that people are paying their dues. The first question I encouraged Michelle to ask is, "Why are people paying their dues?"

Most people join an organization for at least one of two reasons: benefits and mission.

Benefits: In many trade associations members pay their dues to receive benefits such as a reduced worker's comp insurance, to get continuing education certification, or to have a voice in government through their lobbying efforts. This is the most basic motivation: "What's in it for me." Every organization must answer that question with member benefits.

Mission: Some members pay dues because of the mission of the organization--they want to "make a difference". People want to have influence and the organization that provides ways for members to impact society, will always have a growing membership.

Ellen and Mike pay their dues and attend meetings. Ellen because of the mission and Mike because of the benefits. As you read their stories, think of what you are doing in your organization to meet these two needs: benefits and mission.

The Meetings - Why do people to attend meetings?

Let's look at two people who never miss a meeting-each for different reasons.

Ellen is on a mission. She attends meetings because the topics are always about what she can do to better have an impact on troubled teens. She works in a community center and is looking for ideas and resources to expand the center and reach more kids. Ellen's membership in her association offers a plethora of information, motivation and education on how to make a difference. She would never miss a meeting.

Last week the workshop leader was a youth specialist who gave the latest information about youth "slanguage" and how to understand today's kids when they used popular terms like "Fo' Sheezy" "shout out," "pimp," "grill," "krunk," or "holla." Ellen probably won't ever personally use these youth culture terms, but she wants to know what they mean when the kids use them. Ellen is determined to understand a part of the youth landscape. Her association meetings help Ellen keep up.

Mike attends meetings because of the practical benefits. By attending the regional meetings of the R.V. Park Owners Association, he can receive the accreditation he needs to be a certified R.V. Park manager. But Mike is also looking for help. He wants to know how to motivate his staff, and the speaker at this meeting is an expert, author and business consultant that has managed a thriving R.V Park. The speaker had experienced the same problems that Mike is going through. After the speaker makes a presentation, Mike will be able to meet with other R.V. Park owners who are running into the same personnel concerns that he has. Mike pays his dues and attends meetings because he gets a lot of help from special presentations, and he is able to visit at the lunch with other R.V. Park owners and managers.

Mike is looking for benefits. Ellen is looking for ways to accomplish her social mission. And the meetings give them what they need. Unfortunately many meetings are boring and do not excite members. Look very carefully at your mission and member benefits. Offer fewer meetings with "hot topics" that excite your members. Give them meetings that demonstrate the difference that they can make. Don't be afraid to pay the bucks to bring in well known, dynamic speakers who can challenge your members--people who are authorities in your industry or organization. Many meeting planners often get a local business to donate the speaker's fee.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to address the volunteer leaders for the America SAP User Group's (ASUG) as they met in Chicago for their annual volunteer's conference. ASUG has over 45,000 members who meet in 38 regional chapters. Their mission is to provide networking, education and influence for all SAP customers, which include most some of the largest companies in our global economy (Coca Cola, Honeywell, H.P, Intel, Warner Bros.) I was thrilled to watch these volunteer leaders brainstorm and work together to plan their local chapter meetings. These meetings are successful because they focus on "hot topics" that their members want to explore.

People are very busy. They have to make choices about how they are going to spend their time. You have to make your meeting worth their while for them to give up a night to come to your meeting instead of staying home and watching American Idol.

The Letter -- Should I send a letter?

Letters are one of many ways to communicate your volunteer needs, benefits and mission. The rule of communication in the non-profit organization is that to make sure your message is heard, you need to communicate your point five times, five different ways. The fifth time the member hears the announcement he/she will say, "I never heard that before." So Michelle's letter is one of the five ways. Make it positive. Thank them for their contributions. Give some examples in your letter of how their contributions are helping to make a difference--use a success story. Then share about an upcoming event (meeting).

At the end of the letter share the opportunities for getting personally involved. For example, say something like the following:

I want to thank you for your support of the _______________. Your dues are helping in our legislative efforts (give example) and provide you the services (give example) to help you succeed. You could also help us make a difference by sharing your professional expertise: At this time we could use the following professional skills: a graphic artist, a web designer, a facilitator, a writer, a presenter, and a trainer. Please e-mail us me at if you are interested in the specifics of these opportunities to help us (state your mission).

Bottom line--don't send out a letter that says, "We need you to volunteer or we will fold our tent and go home." Give a positive message of what you are doing. Ask for very specific help to join your team.

The New Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop:
Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Thomas W. McKee

All or sections of the following can be presented as a full-day hands-on workshop, a half-day seminar, or a key-note presentation for your organization, association, or convention.

Who is this New Volunteer?

Seismic shifts that have changed volunteer management

Recruiting the New Volunteers

Why 20th century methods don't work like they use to

     Part I: Motivating This New Breed of Volunteers
     Part II: Empowering Volunteers That Want to do it Their Way
     Part III: Mobilizing the Power and Passion of the Volunteer Team
     Building a focused, volunteer team

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com.