In our January User Group How-To we discussed ways to revitalize your group. This How-To will expand on that article, focusing on volunteer involvement and management. Volunteering is key to a group’s success. Parts of this article were taken from a presentation given at User Group University held at Macworld in 2007. The focus of the presentation was on volunteers and community involvement. This how-to will look at volunteer types and roles, difficult volunteers, and most importantly recognizing your volunteers.
Most user groups survive on volunteers. There are two types of volunteers, and it is important for group leaders to identify them early.
Type 1 volunteers: Their goal is to gain something. They want to help out, because it benefits them in some way. These volunteers are great, but make sure that what they are “gaining” is also being given back to help the group as well. A great example of this is demo or review software. The volunteer member gets free software to use that they may have to otherwise buy. Make sure you follow up and get the review or have them present the product to your group.
Type 2 volunteers: The goal of this person is to truly give back to the group, not expecting anything in return. In identifying these volunteers, there are four key things to look for. One, no experience is needed for someone to volunteer. There is always something for someone to do to help out your group. Second, is to recognize skills when they are being offered. Be open minded to changing the way the group works, if someone has something to offer that benefits all. Third, is to recognize that someone wants to volunteer. Someone in the group may want to help out, but they don’t know how. Offer opportunities for members to get involved and don’t be afraid to ask members to help out. If you see that a member has a skill to help your group, then ask them. If you don’t ask, they may not realize their help is needed. And finally, the most important part in identifying volunteers is to make sure you know the skill sets that are needed for the volunteer position. If your group has different volunteer positions, identify what skills are needed for each of those positions, so you get the right volunteers for the task.
Leadership Roles: Typically a group identifies its leaders by a board of directors. There is typically a group president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. Having individuals fill these roles is important to sustaining the group over time. To have a successful board there are some key points to identify. Set term limits on board positions. Don’t burn your board members out. Bring in new board members and they can bring fresh ideas to your group. Have a consistent board by keeping records and documentation that can be passed on to new leadership. And most importantly, do a board training. If you have new board members, do a training meeting with them so that they understand things and don’t have to re-invent the wheel when transition happens.
General Membership: General group members can fill a number of volunteer roles. They can help with meeting coordination, newsletters, events, presentation and a variety of other tasks. To use volunteers effectively, figure out what kind of tasks and jobs you need them to do. Figure out each volunteer’s strengths. Give volunteers something to do, and have assignments they can choose from. If needed, offer training for volunteers so they know what to do. Helping a volunteer learn new skills is a great reward for both you and them.
With all volunteering, it may not always be easy. Have someone “volunteer” too long, and they may burn-out. Try and identify and transition these volunteers before that happens. Give them new roles in the group or just give them a break. Some volunteers have a mindset for how they want their volunteer experience to be. They may not be flexible or may be unwilling to change. If your group cannot accommodate their style of volunteering, you may have the hard task of asking them not to help out. This may be hard for some to address in a group, but the task is important for a group’s sustainability. Volunteering is a both thankless job and a privilege.
Giving Back = Coming Back
You can’t always predict or prevent difficult volunteers, but there are some things you can do to try and keep volunteers happy. The most important thing you can do is THANK your volunteers. A simple thank you goes a long way. Recognize them for their efforts. An annual volunteer event or group picnic thanking the volunteers is a great way to show appreciation. Surprise your volunteers. Some Apple SWAG, some cool product a vendor offered the group or a simple thank you card will make them feel great.
The Apple User Group Advisory Board would like to hear success stories from groups. If you would like to share your story with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rick Ortiz – Apple User Group Advisory Board and Maui Apple Users Society