Reimagine volunteering & leadership to increase member engagement

Associations and chapters are finding it difficult to recruit volunteers, especially for leadership roles. This disturbing trend was emerging before the pandemic, but according to VolunteerPro’s 2022 Volunteer Management Progress Report, it’s now worse. The number of active association and nonprofit volunteers dropped from a pre-pandemic average of 100 to 250 per organization to 1 to 25.

The good news? Once you figure out what’s causing the decline in volunteerism at your association, you can adapt your governance and volunteer management strategies to ensure a more sustainable future.

Why aren’t members volunteering?

The best way to find out the answer is to ask. Ask inactive members why they don’t volunteer and active members why they do.

Here are some common reasons members aren’t interested in volunteering.

Lack of connection

Newsletters are the only association experience for many members. They’ve never experienced a personal connection with association staff or other members, so they’re unlikely to volunteer.

Value of time

The pandemic changed how people spend and value their time. Routines are different. New boundaries have been drawn. Members are more discerning about how and where they spend their time, even with you.

Volunteer and leadership service requirements

Volunteer options don’t match the time and mental bandwidth that members are willing to dedicate to the association. In many associations, committee service and other time-intensive volunteering roles are the only options advertised. But most members aren’t interested in such heavy responsibilities. Volunteers who are willing to deepen their involvement don’t want to commit four or five years of their lives to climbing the leadership ladder. 

Volunteering experience

If members choose to spend their valuable time with you, it had better be a worthwhile experience. Unfortunately, many members have wasted time making work to keep busy on committees without a charge from the board. These purposeless committees should be retired, but they are kept around for tradition’s sake. 

Change in employer commitment

Many employers no longer allow staff to dedicate time during the workday to associations or subsidize travel expenses for out-of-town meetings. Budgetary concerns and workplace health policies are to blame for some of these decisions, but others worry another employer member will poach their staff.

Empty leadership pipeline

If a mechanism is not in place to find, coach, and elevate members into leadership positions, you must rely on people raising their hands. This problem is especially worrisome in chapters that end up recycling their volunteer leaders until they burn out because no one is waiting in the wings to take over.

Strategies to solve the volunteer deficit issue

Put together a task force to uncover the reasons for your situation and experiment with solutions. 

Human connection

Associations should feel like more than a resource. When members think about your association, they should envision the faces of people—members and staff whom they’ve met online during roundtables, webinars, conferences, courses, social meetups, and focus groups. They’re more likely to give up time for a community of people than for a faceless institution.

Offer free and paid virtual programs where members can meet others and feel like part of a community. They need to feel that connection before they’ll raise their hand for volunteering.

Governance structure

Shorten the leadership ladder to two or three years. A volunteer leader doesn’t need to serve in three offices before becoming the chair. 

Sunset committees that no longer serve a purpose or whose purpose would be better served by a working group or task force. Governance groups should disband when they accomplish their mission.

Strategic, forward-thinking, mission-focused leadership requires a nominations committee that chooses volunteer leaders based on qualifications—what they bring to the role, not whom they know or how popular they are. 

Time spent on meaningful purposes

Members weigh the impact of volunteering on the association, industry, or themselves versus the loss of precious time. They only want to spend time on an experience that makes a difference or benefits them personally or professionally.

The board must give a charge to all committees, working groups, and task forces. This charge lays out the group’s goals, responsibilities, and expectations. Groups should only meet when necessary to avoid exacerbating virtual fatigue. Use online collaborative tools and portals to facilitate committee work and resource sharing.

Benefits of volunteering

Volunteering is a two-way relationship. The volunteer gives their time and talent to the association, but what’s in it for them? How about: 

  • A meaningful and satisfying volunteer experience
  • A chance to practice or acquire skills and leadership experience
  • An opportunity to meet and get to know other members

Recruitment and onboarding

Members shouldn’t have to be in the know or well-connected to become a volunteer. Your website should have an entire section dedicated to describing how governance works, levels of volunteering, and job descriptions for open volunteering roles, including qualifications, responsibilities, and expectations. Include the particular benefits of each position in the job description.

This constantly updated list of volunteer opportunities should include the most time-intensive volunteer leadership roles and micro-volunteering or ad hoc tasks that require an hour or an afternoon of someone’s time.

At renewal, encourage members to update their volunteer profile with their interests, skills, availability, and preferences. Have both human and technology scouts looking out for volunteer talent. Recruit a team of scouts who seek new volunteer talent and match them with the best opportunities. 

Finally, take advantage of CRM and marketing automation tools with engagement scoring capabilities to identify potential volunteers and their interests. Technology like Salesforce’s free Volunteers for Salesforce module makes it easy for volunteers to sign up, manage their commitment, and track their volunteer hours online.

Volunteer experience

Tobi Johnson, president and founder of VolunteerPro, says if you want to attract people back to volunteering, offer “a place of respite, resilience, and restoration.” Prevent burnout by providing well-being support and resources to volunteers, especially chapter and association leaders. 

Members, especially those who work from home, are seeking professional social experiences. Make a point of emphasizing and promoting the social benefits of volunteering. Members want to meet and get to know other members. That’s easily done if they serve on a committee or task force, but what about in other volunteer roles? 

If the volunteering task is not a collaborative one, think about offering something special to those who volunteer regularly. Host volunteer virtual meetups featuring special guests discussing hot topics with the group.


Acknowledge and express appreciation for all volunteers, not just members serving on committees, but members serving in any capacity for any amount of time. Don’t take even an hour of their time for granted. Marketing automation can make this a doable task by automating the distribution of personalized thank-you notes.

Value for employers

Create a marketing campaign that makes the connection between an employer’s support of volunteering and their employee’s satisfaction and professional growth. Collect and feature print and video testimonials of supportive employers.

Remind employers that talented staff goes where they can grow on and off the job. Giving staff time off to volunteer is employee recruitment and retention tool. The company also benefits from the volunteer and leadership training provided by the association. The company’s reputation in the professional community will grow as they become known, thanks to your marketing campaigns, for supporting their employees and their industry. 

Volunteering can be a transformational membership benefit, but only if it’s a worthwhile experience that fits the member’s goals and lifestyle. Rethink the experience so more members can enjoy the perks of volunteering and leadership. 

Contact us if you’d like Fíonta’s help in learning how your existing technology can help your organization recruit and retain volunteers.