Volunteers are the essential component of any association. Yet when was the last time your association assessed your ability to serve and support your volunteers? If you’re like most associations, it’s probably been a while.

SOLUTiONS asked Philip Lesser, Ph.D, CAE, vice president, Bostrom and Barton Tretheway, Managing Partner Bostrom Consulting, about some best practices for volunteer relationship management (VRM) and emerging trends.

SOLUTiONS: What’s the biggest misperception about volunteers?

Lesser: Certainly one of the biggest misperceptions about volunteers is that their time is free. In fact, while association volunteers have multiple roles – leader, committee chair, speaker, author – none of them are “free.” Most volunteers have day jobs and other competing priorities on their time.

SOLUTiONS: Why should organizations engage in volunteer relationship management?

Tretheway: Given that volunteers are so vital to organizations, it’s important to ensure that their needs are met and expectations are set. Volunteer relationship management allows organizations to set expectations, develop policies and procedures, understand the volunteer mindset and create a volunteer support action plan.

SOLUTiONS: When it comes to setting expectations, are there some general guidelines that you can suggest?

Tretheway: Expectations both for what the organization can expect of volunteers and what a volunteer can expect from the organization should be clearly articulated. Associations should provide volunteers with access to information; communications (among board, staff, committees and other stakeholders); resources and training. Organization staff should understand the constraints volunteers face and not overburden them. On the other hand, volunteers should provide timely responses, honor commitments and exercise their ability to say “no.”

SOLUTiONS: Tell us about some trends related to volunteer relationship management.

Lesser: We’re seeing three big trends in volunteer management: micro-volunteering, tracking lifetime member value and member matching. Micro-volunteering provides specific, time-limited opportunities for people to engage with an organization from anywhere to an hour to a day to a longer period of time on an as-needed basis. It’s attractive to volunteers because it allows them an opportunity to participate in a discrete task. Many organizations use technology to help manage micro-volunteering. For other organizations, micro-volunteering provides a “point of entry,” allowing volunteers to get involved and realize a quick success before engaging in a more traditional activity. Tracking lifetime member value provides a platform for associations to more directly address individual member needs. And it provides a mechanism for associations to “recognize and reward” those who have the highest value. Finally, membermatching provides an opportunity for a personal volunteer ask versus a broadcast request.