Building a successful association hinges on finding volunteers to give their time, energy, and talent. Yet some associations continually struggle to attract volunteers. These days, some fear even asking members who are experiencing a challenging business environment. Here are some new (and some tried-and-true) tips for recruiting volunteers.
1. Ask them in person.
Ask 10 REALTOR® members why they got involved in their local or state association, or the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, and nine out of ten will say, “Because someone asked me.” Soliciting for volunteers is, after all, just like selling anything else. Cold calling is a difficult way to sell. People do business with people they like. CEO of the Kansas City Regional Association of REALTORS® Diane Ruggiero advises, “You must ask them in person if you really want to get someone to say yes. Go to their office, meet them for coffee, or ask them out for lunch. Make them feel important and always tell them the purpose, the WIIFM (what’s in it for me), and the time involved.”
2. Build trust by being honest.
It’s critical to be completely up-front about the commitment involved. Pinellas REALTOR® Organization CEO Ann Guiberson agrees. “Tell volunteers whether it’s a task force that’s going to meet once or twice for two hours each or if it’s an ongoing commitment.” Always overestimate the time commitment slightly just in case a project takes longer than expected. Also, always explain the purpose of the assignment and its importance to the association. Otherwise, a potential volunteer may not think the work is worth his or her time.
3. Find ways to use members’ expertise.
Find out what skills and abilities your volunteers bring to you and then match them to committee assignments (but don’t assume someone has skills or particular interests; ask first). A good skill-to-task match makes volunteers feel not only comfortable, but that their expertise is useful to the association. For Vice President of Administrative Services at the Kansas Association of REALTORS® Christy Stinger, the matching process was really common sense. “Two of our members have accounting backgrounds. With so many REALTORS® who are well versed on financials and budgets, those people make sense on a budget and finance committee. Another woman who wrote op-eds for the local paper was appointed to the governmental affairs committee for her ability to explain and communicate her opinions.”
4. Explain the benefit from the members’ point of view.
Jim Helsel, 2009 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® treasurer, has volunteered since the beginning of his long career. He suggests focusing on the payoff from volunteering. First, Helsel tells potential volunteers that they’ll not only get personal satisfaction and enjoyment from volunteering, but that they’ll also have fun. “Emphasize the networking and learning opportunities in volunteering,” he says. “There’s not a person I’ve met during this journey that hasn’t helped me in my career when I’ve needed it,” Helsel recalls. He credits his volunteer work with bringing referrals from across the country.
5. Follow your instincts.
Helsel advises AEs to watch for and nurture prospective volunteers. “Many times it is the AE that sees a reason to push someone to ‘go to the next level’ and use their talents to work for the association and for their industry,” he says. “AEs learn to spot talent. No one sees more than an AE.”