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The Best Volunteer in the World
Recruit and Cultivate People Like This and Your Organization Will Thrive.
“Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action and that action is service.”
This article describes an ideal volunteer.
Most volunteers are professional, easy-to-work-with, and eager to serve their association professionally and with a strong work ethic.
And we all know the volunteers who drive us crazy with their pet projects, out-of-bounds demands, showboating, or needy behavior. Fortunately, these volunteers are the exception.
Well-prepared volunteers are vital to a healthy and well-functioning association. They are involved in many stages of product or program development, as subject matter experts but also as participants in planning, content development, or evaluation work.
In short, volunteers are required to make a product community hum with energy, purpose, and meaningful outcomes.
This article builds on previous pieces I’ve written about the importance of volunteers in running a successful association: building a volunteer pipeline, preparing volunteers for strategic change, and aligning successive board chairs.
The Product Community is a product development learning community designed specifically for associations.
The Ideal Volunteer
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Associations are volunteer-led organizations. This is what differentiates our business model, culture, and operations. I have played both roles in my career (volunteer leader and professional staff) and believe that the best associations have strong, respectful, bi-directional, mutually-satisfying relationships.
If we do this well, we can maximize engagement and drive value.
In the product community, we base work with volunteers on the following assumptions:
Professional staff and volunteers are full partners.
The association is strategic and needs volunteers to help carry out the strategy.
There is a healthy and organized volunteer pipeline.
Form follows function; that is, volunteers are chosen to fit a particular need.
Volunteers may be subject matter experts, but they tend not to be experienced with strategy, planning, associations, or nonprofits.
Volunteer contributions hold deep, bi-directional value for both volunteers and the association.
When designing or running a volunteer program, ask fundamental questions:
Is this who I want to work with?
What value do we offer to get prospective volunteers to engage deeply with our association?
What value does the volunteer provide the association?
Here is a checklist of what I believe to be the ideal volunteer:
Passion for the Association and its Purpose – The ideal volunteer is deeply passionate about the organization and fully embraces its mission and goals. They genuinely love what the association stands for and are committed to furthering its cause.
Balanced Approach to Helping – While they have a strong desire to help, they also possess a clear understanding of boundaries. They respect the organization's structure and protocols, recognizing that effective volunteering involves collaboration and adherence to established guidelines.
Realistic Ambition – This volunteer is realistically ambitious, setting attainable goals and objectives. They are not deterred by challenges but are pragmatic in their approach to achieving the association's mission.
Courteous Challenger – They have the ability to challenge ideas and strategies in a courteous and constructive manner. Their willingness to question the status quo is driven by a desire to improve and innovate while maintaining respectful communication.
Results-Driven – The ideal volunteer is unwavering in their pursuit of the best results for the association. They are focused on outcomes and are proactive in finding solutions to obstacles that may arise.
Active Listening and Thoughtful Inquiry – They possess excellent listening skills and actively engage in discussions. While they listen attentively, they also ask probing questions that stimulate critical thinking and encourage deeper insights.
Community Focus – This volunteer prioritizes the greater good over individual legacy. They understand that the association's success is a collective effort and are willing to contribute without seeking personal recognition.
Balancing Urgency and Long-Term Goals – They have the ability to strike a balance between urgency and the ultimate destination. They recognize when it's essential to act swiftly and decisively, while also keeping the long-term vision in mind.
Focused Collaboration – The ideal volunteer understands that great contributions are achieved through focused and collaborative efforts. They actively seek opportunities to work together with other volunteers and stakeholders to maximize impact.
Value-Oriented Mindset – They firmly grasp that the association is about community-driven value, not just individual member benefits. They prioritize initiatives that benefit the broader community and align with the association's core purpose.
The ideal association volunteer is a passionate, boundary-respecting, realistic yet ambitious individual who challenges constructively, pursues excellence, listens actively, values community impact, and understands the organization's overarching mission of creating value for the community.
“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
In poorly-run associations, volunteers complain about staff and staff complain about volunteers. It’s the number one indicator preventing innovative, high-performance, and financially-robust communities.
The best-run associations have an exciting and focused vision, a specific value proposition, a healthy volunteer pipeline, and a clear delineation of roles. Most importantly, these associations have deep talent among, and mutual respect between, volunteers and professional staff.
In this way, we more fully understand our membership community (who they are, what they want, etc.) and the association creates new products that are needed, well-organized, easy-to-find, and can be used to solve pressing problems.
A best-run association is a product community. In product communities, value is focused, relevant, and ongoing. In this way, membership and diversified revenue are not goals; they are robust outcomes of a healthy association in which members of the community pay willingly to participate, design, shape, and support the future.
Remember, product-led growth fuels connection. Join the product community and flip your destiny.
About the Author
James Young is founder and chief learning officer of the product community®. Jim is an engaging trainer and leading thinker in the worlds of associations, learning communities, and product development. Prior to starting the product community®, Jim served as Chief Learning Officer at both the American College of Chest Physicians and the Society of College and University Planning.
Please contact me for a conversation: email@example.com.