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Five reasons to host a volunteer leader meeting

This guest blog post is by Emily Hendershot, a team leader with Nova Strategies. The original blog post was featured in Naylor’s Association Adviser.

Bringing together the best of the best of your volunteers can have an immediate and substantial impact on your association. As volunteer-driven organizations, we strive to recruit, retain and recognize top individuals to serve on committees, as chapter leaders and even as board members. But after they take on a new volunteer role, how are we developing them over time?

Hosting a volunteer leader meeting is an excellent way to bring together key volunteers and staff to collaborate, network and grow. Investing in your volunteers by providing them opportunities for training and additional exposure to your association will bring dividends for years to come. 

Here are the top five reasons you should consider hosting a volunteer leader meeting:

Develop Leadership Skills

Odds are you have a range of leadership experience among your volunteers. Even if they’ve managed projects at work, further development of their leadership skills facilitates increased confidence in their ability to lead within their committee or chapter. Some volunteers may not truly understand the skills they already have that can help them succeed in their role, so with a little exposure to leadership development, those skills can be refined.

When hosting a volunteer leader meeting, allow time for attendees to gain the knowledge and skills you need for them to continue to be a force for your organization. This may include hosting a speaker to help them learn new skills, administering a strengths finder surveyto understand their leadership style or facilitating breakout sessions directly related to the work they do to help them do it better. By equipping them with the proper support and training, volunteers develop the confidence and capacity to lead more boldly and with increased accountability.

Ensure Volunteer Role Clarity

Ensuring volunteers understand their roles and responsibilities is an imperative part of the volunteer onboarding process. These efforts reduce the strain of stakeholder relationships and increase engagement, productivity and satisfaction with the volunteer experience.

With a diverse range of volunteers’ experiences and skillsets, organizations should be assessing volunteer roles and responsibilities often to define and balance volunteer and staff roles. Over time, these lines may become blurred and volunteers may become burnt out.

A volunteer leader meeting provides an opportunity for associations to ensure role clarity for all volunteers across the organization. This dedicated time can be spent taking a comprehensive look at all aspects of committee structure and/or chapter operations including finance, governance, events, marketing and volunteer relationships with support staff. 

Here are ideas about topics you could discuss:

  • Generating new ideas to promote chapter initiatives
  • Helping committee and chapter leaders create goals that tie to your association’s strategic plan
  • Sharing of best practices
  • Equipping volunteers with new information about your organization – a sneak peek of what’s coming down the pipeline from the Board will help them understand the importance of their contributions.
  • Collaborating on future initiatives – ask volunteers their ideas for the future and what’s happening within your industry. Their insight will help you stay relevant.

Both volunteer and staff attendees will walk away from the event with a renewed understanding and commitment to how their role impacts your association’s success.

Facilitate Networking

Shared experience has the potential to inspire passion and positive action. With an opportunity to meet and build lasting relationships with peers, your volunteers are sure to have a stronger affinity to each other and your organization. The bonds created during these types of meetings strengthen their commitment and energize their sense of community. When volunteers are able to see what others are doing in both their volunteer role and careers, they leave feeling inspired and ready to conquer any challenge.

Arranging opportunities for volunteers to make connections and expand their network creates a community where leaders can ask questions, share ideas and collaborate. Fostering this type of environment strengthens relationships and unifies volunteers.

Say Thank You

What do your current volunteer recognition efforts entail? Do you write handwritten notes after annual meeting? Do you send a gift of gratitude during Volunteer Appreciation Week? Is it standardized or only when you think about it?

The best way you can say thank you to your volunteers (besides saying it often!) is investing in their personal growth. The efforts of volunteers should be acknowledged and recognized on a regular basis as they help us accomplish important work. By hosting a volunteer leader meeting, you can combine your retention and recognition efforts and use this dedicated time to invest in them – and say thank you. 

Plan for the Future

When people are deeply connected to the vision of your association, they are more likely to take on leadership roles. Hosting a volunteer leader meeting will put all of your top volunteers in the same room together and help them see the bigger picture of the organization, instead of focusing solely on their volunteer area. You can also observe interactions and engage volunteers who may be a good fit in the future for your board of directors. By seeing them in this type of environment, it will be easier to recognize those who stand out and for you to create a shortlist of individuals who may be available if a future need or initiative arises. By identifying these individuals now, you can build their capacity by encouraging the board to build a relationship with them or connect them with a strong leader who can serve as their mentor.

A volunteer leader meeting also offers a place for the board of directors to hear directly from volunteers. They can facilitate a discussion on industry trends, upcoming project goals or expose them to the strategic plan. Ask volunteers for their advice and input. If you engage them and act on an idea, they are even more likely to be interested in long-term volunteer service because they know their voice matters.

The progress and success your association has experienced is due in large part to the quality and capacity of your volunteers. As you look to the future, a volunteer leader meeting provides an opportunity to ensure alignment with your volunteers and to invest in your current and future leaders. Gathering these leaders in one place will elevate your association to new heights and maximize the impact of your greatest assets: your volunteers.

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