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exceed expectations

Here are some tips on how to put your best foot forward with your volunteer leaders and give them what they need to lead so you have what you need to manage.

1. Understand the role, personality, and communication style of each leader.
Do your volunteer leaders have a clear understanding of what their role is within the organization and what your role is as staff? Creating a decision matrix, leadership manual and onboarding your volunteers at the beginning of the association year starts you off on a good foot for working successfully together.

When new volunteers come on board, ask them how they want to be communicated with and then actually utilize that as often as possible. Do they have an assistant that they want looped in on certain requests (especially scheduling)? Is a text or a phone call a better alternative to email or is email the only way to go?

Whichever way you communicate, get to know their style and personality. Are they a nothing but business, straightforward communicator or do they like to engage in conversation prior to jumping in to the subject matter? Do they want a high-level response, or do they need a little more “meat”?

Being able to communicate efficiently and effectively to each leader in their “style” and preferred method will help to create a strong relationship and ultimately make the work easier for both you and the volunteer. There is, of course, a learning curve to this but the more you can figure your volunteers out, the easier exceeding their expectations become.

2. Be proactive.
Can you anticipate questions before you receive them? If so, answer them before they have to be asked. As an example, I like to annotate my check and credit card expense details for one of my clients so that they have an understanding of what each expense is for. It doesn’t take much time at all and it eliminates many questions that could come up.

Are there ways to streamline operations or do things in an easier way for both you and the volunteer? Create a well thought out proposal and present it – the worst that can happen is they don’t adopt it but, in most cases they are excited to see that you’re thinking about how to better the organization and agree to suggestions. As an example, one organization who holds annual elections wanted to send multiple email reminders. Staff are always aiming to streamline communications and not overwhelm in boxes. We suggested a schedule with rationale and proposed setting up a link on the member’s only part of the website so people didn’t have to look for the link in an email. The Nominations Committee chair was thrilled and appreciated the pro-active thinking.

3. Manage expectations and over deliver.
While we’re talking about exceeding expectations, some do need to be managed. During your onboarding process, talk about response time for emails and phone calls. Strive to respond within 24 hours of receiving the communication and, if you can get to it the same day, all the better!

Ensure that your volunteers have a clear understanding of turnaround time for various projects – not everything can be done same day. If you can anticipate that a project is going to take you awhile, be up front about it and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Then, when possible, over deliver. If you can get something done faster, they’ll be thrilled.

4. Do what you say you’re going to do.
This not only builds a strong, trusting relationship but it ensures the association will run as smoothly as possible.

5. Set them up for success.
What can you do to make your volunteers look good? Provide talking points ahead of meetings, annotate financials, talk ahead of time to ensure they have everything they need to understand what they’re talking about when they lead a board or committee meeting. When your volunteers look good, it’s a win for them and for you.

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decision matrix

Volunteer leaders are ambitious. They own businesses; they have full (or more than full) time jobs; they conduct research; they join their professional or trade association to learn more, to be involved, to make a difference in their field – whatever that may be.

As association professionals, it is our job to allow our leaders to lead and help keep them out of the weeds. Volunteer leaders should be doing the big, strategic thinking and planning that moves the organization forward. They shouldn’t be deciding how much coffee to order during a meeting break. There are a few great ways to empower your leaders to really lead and staff to manage operations.

1. Create a decision matrix
A decision matrix is just what it sounds like, it lists decisions that need to be made by the association and clearly lays out who should be making the related decision. A decision matrix can be used for the board of directors and for committees. Staff and volunteer leaders create the matrix together ensuring that everyone is on the same page in terms of who the decision maker is, who should be consulted for advice when making the decision and who simply just needs to be informed.

2. Leadership Manuals
If your organization doesn’t have one, it would behoove you to create a manual that contains the following:

  • Your organization’s mission, vision and values
  • A brief history/overview of the organization
  • Responsibilities as a volunteer leader
  • Policies and standard operating procedures
  • Roles and responsibilities for board members, committees, staff
  • Important resources

Creating a manual or handbook allows volunteer leaders to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.

3. New Board Member Orientation
To go along with your Leadership Manual, new board members should receive an orientation — a personal welcome from the executive director and current president or designee that provides a general overview of what it means to be a board member and what specifically that means to the organization they are going to serve.

These tools provides leaders with transparency and clarity in decision making and are essential in keeping them looking at the big picture instead of all the small brush strokes.

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