Monday, June 25, 2012

Are Associations Ready for “Hit and Run” Volunteering?

Despite being recession-slowed, Boomers are retiring at record rates. And, for many associations and non-profits, that means millions fewer volunteers for boards, committees and service projects.

Most nonprofit organizations will depend on the 80 million Millenials to replace the retiring Boomers.

There’s one big problem:  The Boomers running most associations and nonprofits have built rituals, traditions and programs for people like them:

  • Want to be a leader in our association, well, you need to volunteer on a committee or participate in a service project?
  • Oh, that means you need to spend 8-10 years or more before you can step into a leadership position. You know, pay your dues like we did.
Well, based on current generational research, many Millenials will flee from such “opportunities.”

I first witnessed the issue when no one on the board of a client professional society was willing to “step up” to be the association’s president ... a two-year term. No one had time. They resolved the impasse when two directors volunteered to serve one year each. After solving the short-term issue, however, the board failed to address the longer-term issue of two-year terms.

Research shows Millenials support causes in large numbers. Yet, many associations (especially civic/service clubs are facing difficulties in engaging younger members.

Millenials place high priority on time with family and friends. Long-term and/or time-consuming volunteer opportunities rank lower especially if it means time away from family and friends.

This might explain the success of online cause-related donation programs such as Pepsi Fresh. It may explain the cause-marketing support generated by product purchases. It may explain when civic/service clubs (Jaycees, Lions, Optimist) continue to watch membership fall off a cliff.

Rather than complaining about the “young kids” not willing to play by our rules, perhaps we need to rethink our systems by looking at them from a Millenial point of view rather than our point of view?

Perhaps we need to explore concepts related to “hit and run” volunteer programs ... projects that can be completed quickly allowing our volunteers to help and then move on.

Think of the Habitat for Humanity model:  "We're building houses. You're welcome to help.  Too busy this weekend?  You can do it later."  No requirement for membership.  No requirement to volunteer every time.

As Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers noted in Race of Relevance, “associations continue with their time-intensive model. Time to participate on a board or committee. Time to get involved in grassroots political activity. Time to read association newsletters and magazines. Time to attend seminars and conferences. Time to volunteer for a community service program. Time. Time. Time.” And, today, it is almost easier to get people to donate money than to give time.

Am I right? What ideas would you suggest?

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