March 5, 2010

Moving Towards a Results-Only Volunteer Environment


Why do we make it so hard for people to volunteer their time, to share their ideas, to help make a difference?


In his book Drive, Dan Pink suggests three motivational drivers for individuals—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—that have significant implications for all organizations.

Associations in particular have a real opportunity to capitalize on these three drivers when engaging volunteers in contributing to the organization's efforts, whether it is an academic presenting a paper at a professional society's conference or a community member leading a local fundraiser for a national philanthropic drive.

In Drive, Pink highlights the ROWE ™which stands for Results-Only Work Environment™.  Cali Resler and Jodi Thompson, founders of the ROWE movement and authors of Work Sucks, a book about the needed changes in organizational culture to support a ROWE describe it as:
"Results-Only Work Environment ™ is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. In a ROWE™, people focus on results and only results - increasing the organization's performance while creating the right climate for people to manage all the demands in their lives . . . including work."

Associations need to consider the ROWE ™ equivalent for some (if not all) aspects of their volunteer workforce, perhaps creating a ROVE: Results-Only (or at least -Oriented) Volunteer Environment.  Too much volunteer inspiration and aspiration is stifled by the bureaucratic structures and limiting opportunities members encounter when looking to get involved.

We've known for years (and ASAE & The Center's The Decision to Volunteer study affirmed) that a significant percentage of volunteers prefer to contribute to time-specific tasks or deadline-driven projects, yet we still overuse committees, advisory boards, and task forces as the gateway to volunteer engagement.  Talent and passion stifled by structures and recruitment models that have been too limiting for too long.  Why?  Because it may be easier for association leaders to manage.

But that's not the criteria to use when determining the effectiveness of a governance structure.  The more important question to ask is "does our volunteer structure most effectively engage our members' interest, capabilities, and passions in achieving our envisioned results?"  For many associations, the answer would have to be a resounding NO! 

Unlike a ROWE ™, a ROVE may need a few more parameters put in place because we are dealing with volunteers and not paid employees, perhaps: greater specificity for the desired end results, templates or models of what successful project completion looks like, some sort of minor prequalification for volunteers looking to take on major projects, etc.  And initially an association may want to test what types of volunteer assignments are best suited to a ROVE-style management model and then refine their efforts as they apply the model to more of the association's work.

Individuals join associations because they believe in the organization's purpose and the community it engages.   They often possess great mastery of a subject matter of importance to that purpose and community.  With greater autonomy to share their time and talents, they will enrich and expand the community and further advance the association's core purpose.

Not all association projects are probably right for a ROVE (scholarly journals might be one example of a less likely candidate) and some nonprofits may be able to embrace the model more quickly than others.   But shifting our thinking from the current way we chain volunteers to a limited number of contribution opportunities on our terms is a no-brainer.  Association leaders should care more about understanding what their potential volunteers care about … and eliminating the barriers to acting on that caring.