Community manager toolkit: Scale your community with volunteers

At some point you may have found yourself at work long after everyone else has left, the fluorescent lights buzzing above your head, and the sound of a lonely unanswered phone ringing through the empty hallways. Yet you remain, typing madly and wishing you had a clone to help you with all of the work you need to get done. But now is not the time for cloning. Instead, you need a fresh infusion of volunteers.

As an association executive, you probably know that your organization started as a group of volunteers with a similar interest—whether it’s a professional, social, or personal interest. That communal seed at the heart of the association should not be forgotten, and your online community is the perfect place to cultivate and grow it. Volunteers can not only help you manage the small tasks, they can also help you plan the future growth and direction of your online community.

Delegate your work to members

So you might be thinking, “I don’t have any volunteer opportunities right now.” I’m here to tell you that you do. Every small thing that you do every day—whether it’s cultivating articles for your community’s homepage or helping new members navigate the community—can be handed off to a volunteer at some point freeing you to think and work strategically for your community. Here are some examples.

Welcome new members

Gather a group of members who you can send a list of your new community members to every week. Have them split the list and reach out publicly or privately to the new members. Not only does this give your community a welcoming spirit, it also gives your new members a name and a face to remember when they have questions about the community.

Reply to unanswered posts

When a post goes more than a few days without a reply, this can be a bad thing for your community. The person who asks the question feels that they weren’t heard, and the community misses an opportunity to add some knowledge to its inventory. Just like with a welcome committee, develop a list of members you can contact about particular topics or issues who will be happy to reply to an unanswered post.

Curate content

Members know better than anyone what’s happening in their field or industry, so relying on your own limited knowledge to gather pertinent news and content for your community is a little backward to begin with. If you have no other volunteer opportunities for community members, this is where you should start. Curate your own list of thought leaders within your community and reach out to them to keep you informed about the latest news and resources.

How to organize volunteers

All of this begs the question: How are we going to organize all of these people and hold them accountable? While you can likely keep a few micro-volunteer opportunities organized with spreadsheets and email blasts, at some point you will need to create a formal structure for your community volunteers.

Start with a community advisory group/forum. Create a space in your community for highly active members to receive opportunities and to provide feedback to your association. A discussion board with a library is perfect—whether it’s on your branded community or hosted on a platform like Google groups. Use this to send alerts and to request content from members. Once you’ve identified and contacted your thought leaders, add them to the advisory group community and let the work begin.

After a while, if your advisory group is active and contributing, you may be able to create a formal committee within your association to lead the volunteer work. At this point, you will need to be prepared to act in more of an advisory role and able to report on the health and activity in your community. You will also need to be able to relinquish some control over your community as the committee may want to implement some of their own strategies and tactics.

Of course, there are any number of other ways to organize volunteer work, especially if you have the staff to dedicate time to managing your volunteer pool. You might also have technology available in your branded community that helps you to manage volunteers. No matter how you go about it, though, infusing volunteers into your community’s strategy does more than help distribute the work among your members. It also gives members a sense of ownership over the community—a hugely important aspect to creating an enthusiastic, growing online community.

How to motivate volunteers

While it’s one thing to have a work plan and a management structure in place for volunteers, those items are fairly useless without volunteers. The last step in your process, and the key to the whole operation, is motivating your members to become volunteers. As you know, it’s probably not realistic to expect a majority of your members to convert, and to even get a 10 percent conversion rate, you’ll have to be ready with a rock solid marketing and on-boarding plan.

Marketing is just the first step. While you might think that it’s natural for association members to want to volunteer for their organization–and it is–there are any number of competing demographic factors you have to take into account, from whether or not the member has school-age children to their vacation habits. The more targeted your marketing messages can be the better, that way you’re sending the right kinds of opportunities to you members. In addition to being in line with their interests, personalization shows that you have your members’ best interests at heart.

But even after you’ve convinced your members to take the plunge and to volunteer with your organization, it’s not enough to just have a list of members who want to help. You will also need to get them to do the work, which means helping them understand what your expectations are and how they can meet those expectations. Make sure you have given thought to how members will do your work, that way you can develop on-boarding resources to help them maximize their time and yours.

Setting members up for success doesn’t just make you look good, it also helps the member find fulfillment in the work that they’re doing with you. So in addition to good direction, give your volunteers good feedback as well. Share your metrics and successes with them as you achieve your goals. Doing so creates a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that is the key to keeping volunteers coming back year after year–and maybe even getting them to become committee and board leaders.

Resources

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