Skip to content
Professional volunteering with association

Why Do People Volunteer for Professional Associations and Trade Groups?

Volunteerism is the lifeblood of many organizations. Learn 5 reasons why people volunteer for associations.

Of the many ways to give back, volunteering is one of the most profound. Giving your time and knowledge is invaluable, which is one of the reasons organizations appreciate their volunteers so much.

Volunteerism has been the lifeblood of many groups throughout the centuries and continues to be a driving force today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25.3% of the US population volunteered in 2014. They helped people in need, advanced causes, and furthered organizations.

How many people volunteered at your association? And what brought them to your door?

5 Reasons Why People Volunteer for Associations

Professional volunteers with experience and business instinct are irreplaceable . They can help you power through your to-do list and deliver innovative ideas to members. More importantly, they can help you overcome challenges, including funding issues. Budgets rarely cover everything we want to do and recruiting volunteers is one way your association can meet more of its goals.

But volunteers come to you for different reasons. They’ve learned different skills from each of the jobs and have different motivations, making each volunteer’s contributions unique. If you want these busy professionals to bring their business acumen to your association, coming back month after month and year after year, you have to understand them.

Here are five of the top motivations that drive professional volunteering and how you can make each type of volunteer feel appreciated.

1. Help People

The altruistic among us volunteer just to help others. Your association makes that easy and focuses efforts. When people volunteer with you, they know they’re helping your industry and furthering a mission they care about.

To make your helper volunteers feel appreciated and understand the importance of what they’re doing, show them the people or causes they’re contributing to. For example, volunteers who organized children’s toy donations could go with you to deliver the toys to neighborhood kids. If that’s not possible, tell stories about how they’re helping. Show them pictures. Make them feel they are making a difference.

2. Try a New Role or Develop a New Skill

Often, people want to “audition” a new industry before taking the plunge into a career change. They may also need experience before they can get hired in a different position. Volunteering is a good way to get a flavor for the industry and the skills it requires. Volunteers in this group may want a taste of your industry before they commit.

Give these volunteers as much exposure to people working in the industry as possible. For example, if a volunteer is new to your industry, you could put them in charge of your online community as a moderator or content curator. This will help them get to know industry experts in your community. Make introductions and have volunteers do different tasks over time so they get a feel for the industry before switching careers.

3. Make Business Connections or Friends in the Industry

When people have just landed a new job or moved to a different area of the country, one of the best ways to become professionally connected is through a trade or professional association. Volunteering is a quick and easy way to meet new people.

This volunteer group already knows the ropes and what it’s like to be in the industry, but they want to grow their network. While they’re volunteering, you can help by introducing them to people who have similar backgrounds or have taken similar career paths. They’ll appreciate your help as much as you appreciate theirs.

4. Build Out Their Resume

From college achievements to LinkedIn profiles, people are very conscientious about what’s on their resume and how they can make it more impressive. Many hiring companies and recruiters are looking for professional experience and, in this case, less is not more. Hiring managers want candidates who know what they’re doing.

Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and take on a leadership role, so if you have volunteers who want to beef up their resume, find out what they’re looking for specifically. Do they want to lead or do they just want to list their volunteer position for your association? If someone wants leadership experience, help them get it. Whether it’s with an in-person management position or acting as a facilitator for an online community group, there are leadership roles for every interest and experience level.

5. Be a Part of Something Bigger

Associations are known for making a difference not only in their industries, but in the world at large. They’re part of local, national and international movements, which means you will often have people join because they want to contribute to your mission. They want to make an impact and be part of something bigger than themselves.

To help this volunteer find satisfaction, tell the story of how they’re changing lives or public policy. Make them feel like your organization couldn’t have such a powerful impact without their contributions. Give as many details as possible. Don’t say: “We couldn’t do it without you.” Say: “We couldn’t have provided shoes for 20 underprivileged kids without the letter campaign you spearheaded for us.”

Your Role in Volunteerism

No volunteer, regardless of their motivation, should be left on their own. Even if your volunteers are experts and can fulfil their role without your help, you still need to manage and appreciate them. If you recruit a volunteer and they wait all morning for a project, they probably won’t return.

So make sure you have something for your volunteers to do right away. Give them clear and well-communicated instructions on how to get started. If you have the time, you could even provide an orientation session or tour. Many association have a volunteer coordinator, mentor, or trainer take over orientation so there’s little extra work for staff to take on.

Once volunteers get their feet under them, give them feedback on how they’re doing. Let them know you appreciate them and value their contributions. A volunteer who feels appreciated and as if they’re making a difference is one you’ll see again.

Get to Know Your Volunteers

Your volunteers play a critical role in helping your association meet its goals, but that may not be the reason why people step up to help. By understanding why people volunteer, you can more effectively meet their needs as you further your mission.

Whenever possible, have a candid conversation with each new volunteer to discover why they are volunteering. It’s an essential first step to building a positive relationship and ensuring that everyone walks away a winner.


Julie Dietz

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.