One thing that distinguishes associations from almost all of their for-profit competitors is volunteers. Whether it’s your board of directors, committee members, speakers, or writers, associations have a strategic advantage in that their “customers” are actually developing the products and services that associations ultimately sell. And the association’s “customers” often are creating the actual content that the association provides (e.g., speakers and writers).
And yet, most of my clients struggle with managing data related to their volunteers. For example, one of my clients is an international association of 35,000 individual members. They have volunteers contributing content (subject matter experts writing and speaking), serving on committees, serving in research capacities, working as auditors for their certification programs, providing mentoring to new members, and on and on and on.
Each of these groups of volunteers is well-managed by the staff in charge of their particular area. For example, the education team knows who their speakers are for any given upcoming event. And the certification team knows who their auditors are. And the executive office knows who is serving on boards and committees.
The challenge they face, as do many associations, is that this data is all siloed in each of these departments, and not necessarily shared with the broader organization. In an ideal world, every association should be able to look at an individual’s record and see all of the individual’s volunteer activity. Whether that was committee service, speaking, writing, or anything else, it should all be in one place, so that any staff person, at a glance, could see all the volunteer work the individual has done or is currently doing.
So why doesn’t this happen? Here are some of the reasons:
- There’s no “place” in the AMS for the data.
- It’s “too difficult” for staff to enter this data into the primary AMS.
- Staff doesn’t know how to enter the data/there is no process in place.
- It’s not a priority.
In my experience, #4 is as common as the first three issues. Even though the association has the technology to manage the volunteer data, it simply is never a priority to update the AMS with this information. And this, even though every one of my clients will say to me “It’s very important to know who are subject matters are, which people we’re using too much,” and so on.
Volunteers are at the core of what makes associations what they really are. It’s time to start prioritizing how we manage data around them.