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August 02, 2008

Book Review: The Decision to Volunteer

The first to review 7 Measures of Success, the first to review The Decision to Join, and now the first to review The Decision to Volunteer. Keep reading the Certified Association Executive blog and be the first to know!

Full disclosure, ASAE & The Center provided me with a complimentary advance unedited proof of their new research project, The Decision to Volunteer (hereafter DTV).

I make it no secret, I thought The Decision to Join (DTJ) was the best research project from ASAE and/or the Center for as long as I've been in the association profession. Now, hot on the heels of 2007's DTJ comes DTV: A survey about the volunteering profile of 26,305 association members. The book is published by ASAE & The Center and was authored by Beth Gazley and Monica Dignam. DTV follows DTJ's format, sporting an abundance of charts and graphs, and chock full of cross-tabs which should delight those pursuing data driven strategies for their associations. DTV will officially debut at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting later this month, but here's a sneak peek at what's in the book.

Why is this an important project? Well, if you remember, one of the key findings of DTJ was that engagement predicts likelihood to renew and likelihood to encourage others to join. So, understanding the decision to volunteer in order to increase the number of volunteers makes good business sense. In addition, many associations are concerned about the future of volunteering; there is anecdotal evidence that the younger generations aren't volunteering in the same numbers and that retiring members will create a volunteer vacuum.

Let's dive in, shall we? Something missing from DTV that I enjoyed in DTJ is a closing summary of each chapter. However, a nice feature of DTV is that its key findings are trotted out right at the beginning of the book. Here they are:

  1. Association members are highly engaged people. They volunteer more than the average citizen.
  2. Values drive volunteer choices. Members expect both career benefits and the psychic rewards of advancing a cause or profession from their volunteering. (can you hear the echoes of DTJ?)
  3. The power of the direct ask. Passive recruitment techniques (i.e. calls for volunteers) aren't as effective. (more echoes of DTJ)
  4. A meaningful experience keeps them coming back. People who volunteer for associations expect to be involved effectively.
  5. Involving the younger generations. Millennials and Gen Xers are less engaged in volunteering right now, but believe more strongly in volunteering than Boomers and the Post-war generation. (sounds like DTJ again)
  6. The professional benefits of membership. Many members regard volunteering as a benefit of association membership.
  7. Recognizing the ad hoc volunteer. Most association volunteers are performing low-profile services, not committee or board work.
  8. Organizational strategies affect volunteering. The number one reason members don't volunteer is a lack of information about opportunities.
Overall, I found DTJ to be a more interesting read than DTV. As is the case with many research projects, they often prove to be true what we already knew. Here are some of my assumptions confirmed by DTV:
  1. Associations are in a pitched battle for volunteer involvement. They're not your volunteers. You share them with other organizations. Association volunteerism ranked third overall, with civic and religious activities leading the field.
  2. If you want something done, ask a busy person. Association members volunteer more hours than the average person and volunteer for more organizations than the average person.
  3. Asking someone personally to become a volunteer is the most reliable way to get them to step up.
  4. Associations must communicate in different ways to spread the word about volunteering.
  5. Members say they are less interested in professional benefits than they are in their ability to support their profession, gain new skills, mentor others or gain new perspectives. That's what they say, anyway.
  6. Members in academia are more likely to volunteer and perform multiple volunteer activities than members in any other sector of the economy. (Predicted by DTJ)
However, here are a few operating assumptions I have been forced to reconsider based on what I read in DTV:
  1. A commonly given piece of advice is to engage older members now as they transition into retirement, because they have a stronger propensity to volunteer and are more likely to volunteer in retirement. In fact, overall, people of retirement age have a lower rate of volunteering than all age categories except those under 35. In addition, the majority of retirement age members report that they are unlikely to volunteer for their association in the next 12 months.
  2. Over the years, I have often discouraged volunteer groups in my associations from organizing community service projects because these activities aren't necessarily in step with the associations' missions. But according to DTV, members expect multiple, diverse benefits from their labor. Therefore, providing volunteer opportunities that link members' professions and perceived civic duties may help members achieve their volunteering expectations.
  3. Sometimes it seems like the more active the volunteer, the less satisfaction they get from their volunteering. DTV reports that the most active volunteers are the most satisfied volunteers. My experience on this matter is mixed.
  4. I've always felt that younger members would be more likely to respond to online calls for volunteers. DTV says that younger members are no more likely to respond to online recruitment tools than their more senior counterparts. Maybe online calls for volunteers is the ONLY way it's being done anymore.
Here are some things that are cause for concern:
  1. Many association members consider themselves to be volunteers, but their associations don't recognize them as such.
  2. The number one answer given for "How did you first learn about volunteer opportunities available to you through your association?" is: Don't recall.
  3. The majority of volunteers do not say they are likely to continue volunteering for their associations within the next 12 months. Nor do they say they are likely to recommend volunteering to other members.
  4. Younger members are less likely to recommend volunteering to other members than those older members.
And here's some stuff I just found interesting:
  1. The longer you've been in a profession, the more likely you are to say that volunteering has had a positive impact on your career.
  2. Millennials are the most likely to say they will volunteer for their associations in the next 12 months.
  3. Socioeconomic factors and family issues are significant in a person's likelihood to volunteer.
  4. International members are a potential volunteer goldmine.
One criticism: I've recommended to ASAE's research staff to break down their research state-by-state. Given that a huge slice of their membership comes from state and regional organizations, this seems like a natural thing to do. It was neglected in DTJ, and again in DTV. Disappointing. I have a strong hunch there are differences in joining and volunteering patterns in different regions of the USA.

The last chapter has some really actionable, practical stuff written by real-life association executive-volunteers. Their recommendations are based not only on the statistical data, but also on comments from the DTV survey. There's a lot of good actionable stuff in there.

In summary, the book gets a thumb's up from me. A few others in the blogocluster got advance copies of the book as well, so watch for their reviews shortly.

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1 comment:

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

On the retirement issue, I wonder if we are just on the leading edge of this trend as the Boomers move on.

Makes sense to me that folks wouldn't necessarily see additional volunteering in their initial 12 months (much like retiring officers often take a breather after being on the board), but I can't help but think as time goes on retirees (not that we'll be calling them that) will be a logical pool o good volunteers.