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Mentoring & Volunteering Programs Offer Emotional and Career Value for Members

In a recent episode of The Member Engagement Show, I invited Higher Logic Sales Engineer Emily Stamm on the show to discuss how offering mentoring and volunteering programs can increase member engagement for associations. Emily is teaching a session on the same topic at Super Forum 2024, April 10-12 in National Harbor, MD – so this was the perfect time to pester her for insights!

“[Mentoring and volunteering programs} allow your members to jump in and get involved with your organization and engage with their peers in different ways…these programs foster a sense of belonging and a sense of being recognized,” said Emily.

With numerous years of experience implementing strategic communication initiatives to improve member engagement, Emily walked through some of ways volunteer and mentorship programs facilitate community involvement and aid in member retention.

The Value of Mentoring Programs for Associations

Association mentoring programs allow members with different experience levels, skill sets, and knowledge to come together and share those things with each other. This kind of program encourages members to engage and get to know your organization and their peers. It offers a chance for people in different seasons of their career to connect in a way they may not have access to anywhere else.

two woman having a mentoring meeting

It’s also a great opportunity to bring in that next generation of members. “You might have members who’ve been with the association for a long time, or are even growing out of your association or retiring, and you can engage with them and keep that historical knowledge they have to share with the younger generation – people that are looking to move up in their career to where that person got to. So I think that’s an opportunity to really make sure that everyone, no matter where they are in their career, no matter how long they’ve been a part of your association, can find value,” said Emily.

Though the most obvious kind of mentoring entails a seasoned expert in the field mentoring a new member on specific industry topics that will help them grow in their career, Emily also shared how it’s common for younger members to share tips for soft skills or tech skills where their peers might need to modernize.

“When I think about how we, in the association world, want to engage Gen Z – they’re a generation who is pretty technologically literate. So, some of those members in your organization who may be more of an expert in industry topics, but might not be as comfortable with technology, could probably benefit from having a relationship with those younger generations. So it gives your association an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, some of our younger members, who you might not think of as an expert in the industry yet, still have something they can offer.’ And you open up those connections and give opportunities to different groups of people to coach, mentor, or volunteer.”

A mentoring program can be a top member benefit that helps your organization cultivate member engagement. Learn how to nurture member connections and growth with our Mentoring Program Success Kit

Volunteer Programs with Associations

While mentoring is one form of volunteering in an association, members can also offer their skills and time in other helpful ways. Volunteer programs are a win-win for associations, as the association gets the help and support it needs to keep growing and fulfill tasks their staff might not have the time or expertise for. And members get the chance to dive deeper into their industry, with practical work experience to show for it.

“I’ve always said there needs to be that element of ‘what’s in it for the member?’” said Emily. “So if members are doing something for you, such has volunteering and helping you out with some content or managing a program or committee, or mentoring someone, they’re still getting something back in return. Sometimes it could be benefits like getting a discount, but sometimes it’s just an opportunity to be seen and be involved in their industry and build some connections…you’re offering experiences and opportunities to grow in their career and the industry.”

During the episode, I also shared a personal example of a volunteer program at one of my former associations in which we invited members to join our “Blog Squad.” Selected members would create informative blog content on industry topics and events for the association’s website. This helped us address one of our challenges: finding the time and resources to create consistent content for our members – since many of the association staff weren’t experts in the field we served. With these assembled members volunteering to write about topics they were passionate about, the association got great content, and the members got to share their areas of interest and expertise and use their published work for their professional portfolios.

Volunteer programs help drive member engagement and association success. Learn how to build a thriving volunteer program with our Volunteer Engagement Success Kit.

Volunteer Tasks Don’t Have to Be Huge Projects

There are so many ways that mentorship and volunteer programs can benefit members, it’s important to remember to offer volunteer opportunities at varying commitment levels, so that members don’t always have to carve out a huge chunk of their time to engage.

person engaging in micro-volunteering by liking an association on social media

Emily shared how impactful it is to offer a variety of different kinds of volunteer opportunities so there’s something for everyone at any level of interest: “[Volunteer opportunities] can be a long-term commitment or they could be a micro-volunteering opportunity – that really quick engagement that just gets them more involved…That could be asking a member ‘Could you help welcome people in our community or help welcome people at an event’ or having them follow you on social media and giving them a badge for doing it. People will jump on those smaller calls to action. And then you can move them along a commitment curve or volunteer curve where they may start at a very easy level, but maybe you can get them to  a place eventually where they want to be on one of your committees or serve on your board.”

Offering volunteer opportunities with different engagement levels gives more members the chance to feel like they have the time and capability to stay involved, at least in some way. The broader your association’s volunteer opportunities are, the more members can (and will) engage with other members and the association as a whole.

Managing Volunteers and Mentors

Emily encouraged associations to leverage technology to manage their volunteering and mentoring programs.

“Think about the technology that you’re using to help you manage everything that goes into having a volunteering or mentoring program. Technology is going to make your and your team’s job easier and provide a great member experience. There are a lot of components you have to oversee when you’re facilitating what volunteers need to do or what the expectations are for a mentor. And if you don’t have technology, like an online community, that’s a lot of Zoom calls or emails back and forth or spreadsheets that could get lost. So creating a place to easily communicate, or share a training session, or track volunteers makes it easier for you to tell new members or volunteers what they need to know when they come onboard, without having to redo it every time someone starts.”

It’s also crucial to be able to keep track of what your members are doing and who has raised their hand to participate in volunteer programs. Software like Higher Logic Thrive’s Volunteer Manager or Mentor Match makes it easier to identify members who are perfectly poised to participate in your volunteering or mentoring programs. You’ll know which members to reach out to for specific skill- or knowledge-based tasks. Rather than sending out a mass message, crossing your fingers and hoping for responses, you’ll have a volunteer pool to start from.

woman selecting association volunteers from a volunteer list

“Being able to have a list of potential volunteers, or being able to see what people’s areas of expertise are enables you to tap people on the shoulder when an opportunity comes up,” said Emily. “You can reach out to them proactively and say, ‘Hey, we have this opportunity. I think you’d be a great fit.’ And on the flip side of that, you’re also providing a space where people can self-nominate or nominate others. So that might help you engage people that you had no idea had any interest or didn’t realize they knew so much about something…It’s saves your organization a ton of time because eyou’re not having to go out and find people to fill volunteer roles over and over again with no information to go on.”

Not only does this save you time and energy, it helps you diversify who is getting involved with the association – tapping and engaging a wider pool of members. It also enables you to keep historical records of who’s been involved over time so you’re better prepared to recognize members who go above and beyond.

“That’s one way I’ve seen people be really successful, is looking at all the data of what their members are doing and looking at what their volunteers have contributed over time. It gives them something to be able to learn from and report on – whether to your membership or your board – and give information about the impact your mentoring or volunteer program has had.”

Higher Logic Thrive Volunteer Manager and Mentor Match make it easier than ever to create highly successful volunteering and mentoring programs. Schedule a demo to learn more.

Showcasing Your Volunteer/Mentor Programs

The best way to keep members engaged and coming back time and again is to show them genuine gratitude for their support. People like to feel appreciated for the time and effort they put into anything, so it’s pivotal you create that feeling for them. After all, they are taking their time to help you.

This can come in the form of a highlight on your online community, thank you notes, a social media post, a mention in an association newsletter, or gamification tactics like badges in your online community. Publicly showcasing what members are doing within your association helps you show your members appreciation and highlights for executives, board members, and investors the results these programs have and the value of dedicating resources to them.

Learn More About Managing Volunteers and Mentors

Emily’s insights on keeping members engaged with your association through volunteer and mentor programs offers food for thought for any association looking to elevate member involvement. We invite you to listen to the full episode and join us for Super Forum 2024, April 10-12 in National Harbor, MD, where Emily will be teaching an in-depth session on this topic!

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Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.