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volunteering program

6 min read

The 6 W’s of Starting a Volunteer Program

Tags: Member Engagement,Member Retention

Volunteers Support Your Success

Volunteer programs can serve many important functions for associations – your association might leverage volunteers to help welcome new attendees at an event, run a mentoring program, solicit volunteer committee members and program speakers, and more. Volunteerism serves as a dynamic catalyst for elevating member engagement, creating a sense of community, and fostering lasting connections among professionals within your association. Beyond enhancing camaraderie, volunteer programs provide members with a tangible way to give back to their field and contribute meaningfully to the association’s mission. Additionally, these programs contribute to positive career growth, as members actively involved in volunteering often have access to invaluable networking opportunities and skill development.

From a practical standpoint, volunteer programs not only save staff time but also amplify the association’s impact by tapping into the diverse expertise and enthusiasm of its membership. Thus, volunteer programs emerge as a win-win, empowering members to contribute actively while fortifying the association’s vibrancy, influence, and communal spirit.

Explore our 6 tips to starting a volunteer program of your own!


Identify the Why

Before investing time and resources into a volunteer program just to say you did it, you should ask why a volunteer program could be beneficial to your organization. Ask yourself:

  1. What do you hope to accomplish with your volunteer program – what are your goals and desired outcomes? (e.g. maybe you create a Young Professionals committee to create initiatives to engage the next generation of members)
  2. What organizational goals should your volunteer program align with? (e.g. DEIB initiatives, attracting young professionals, etc.)
  3. What benefits and/or burdens does this volunteer program present for members and for the team?


Identify the What

Now it’s time to explore the program itself and set clear parameters for what your volunteer program will include (and what it won’t). Understanding and outlining the details of your volunteer program will help you better communicate with your internal team and with your volunteers – and measure and report on the program’s success!

  • What types of volunteer activities will be available and what are the specific qualifications, time commitments, and expectations for each?
  • What actions or behaviors are you trying to encourage?
  • What incentives or rewards might you offer to volunteers?
  • What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will allow you to track and measure the success of the program? How often will you measure the programs metrics?
  • How will you communicate with your team, advertise to potential volunteers, and keep in touch with selected volunteers?
  • Where will you house internal and external volunteer resources? (e.g. public-facing volunteer webpage; members-only volunteer community or resource library; internal staff-only community for keeping track of volunteer program records)
  • When and how will you collect feedback from volunteers?


Identify the Who

A volunteer program doesn’t exist without the volunteers. You may have some enthusiastic members who will independently find and sign up for your volunteer opportunities, but most successful volunteer programs often include an effort to identify and reach out to ideal volunteers. So consider the following questions:

  • How will you find potential volunteers? What are the engagement markers for someone who would make an ideal volunteer (e.g. participation in specific online communities or events, years in the field, high email click rate)?
  • How will you vet your volunteers?
  • How will you advertise your volunteer opportunities on your website, in your online community, via email, on social media, etc.? And can you automate any of this outreach with your community or marketing automation tools?
  • Who, internally, will own different components of your volunteer program?


Identify the When

Once you have your volunteer and communication plan clearly outlined, consider when you want to launch your volunteer program.

  • Do you have any upcoming events that you should either target or avoid?
  • What time of year do your members typically have free time to contribute to volunteer opportunities?


Measure and Celebrate the Wins

Remember those KPIs you identified in the first step? This is where they come back into play. Make sure you’re regularly measuring your volunteer program’s performance so you can (A) keep an eye out for possible issues or areas of improvement, and (B) track the program’s growth and progress toward your goals and share successes with the team and leadership. Consider:

  • How many volunteers participate in your program?
  • What feedback are you receiving from volunteers?
  • Have you seen meaningful increases in organizational KPIs since launching? (e.g. conference satisfaction after launching new member welcome volunteers, or increased member retention after launching a mentoring program).


Address the Whoops

No matter how much thought you put into planning a volunteer program, there will inevitably be opportunities for improvement. Make sure you’re prepared to catch issues before they spiral into bigger problems.

  • Regularly check your KPIs and metrics to see how the program is performing
  • If members aren’t engaging, ask yourself how you might make the volunteer experience better. Do you need more advertising, clearer volunteer guidelines, different volunteer commitment levels, better follow-up to members who’ve signed on, etc.?
  • Give volunteers the opportunity to provide feedback and make sure you have a process for evaluating and reacting to that feedback.
managing volunteers

Volunteer Management Made Easy

Higher Logic Thrive's Volunteer Manager tools are a great time-saver for associations running volunteer programs. Automate processes and volunteer communication, create a thriving volunteer community, and easily measure and report on your volunteer programs impact with an intuitive system that makes it simple to find, track, and reward member engagement.