Cultivating volunteers

0 38 Associations

by Ian Harvey

All industry groups need strong leadership at all levels from the grassroots up, said Alana Sunness Griffith, of New Hope, Minnesota, an active volunteer within the CSI for nine years.
Cultivating volunteers

It’s a leader’s place to entice and motivate



Stepping up to volunteer in an industry organization is a challenge whose benefits outweigh the challenges, says the former national president of the Construction Specifications Institute.

All industry groups need strong leadership at all levels from the grassroots up, said Alana Sunness Griffith, of New Hope, Minnesota, an active volunteer within the CSI for nine years.

The challenge is attracting new volunteer leaders, as she outlined last week in a presentation Looking for Leaders: Training for the Future at the Construction Specifications Canada convention in Winnipeg. The event saw attendance by many members of the U.S. CSI’s north central states.

“Leadership is challenging because it’s hard to find the time,” said Sunness Griffiths, whose family business, Empirehouse, Inc., is a specialty glazing contractor.

“Many are already involved in their community, either politically, with their church or school. And the 1950s are long gone when the mom stayed home and dad could spend as much time as he wanted on things outside the home.”

The key to attracting leaders is to create interesting roles with clear definitions.

“You don’t want to ask them to reinvent the wheel,” she said, “because they don’t have time. You want to have enough of a template so they can be effective, serve and then go back to being a member.”

Cultivating leadership takes an investment on the part of the existing leaders, she said, noting mentoring is key to bring on new blood.

“But once you start, you realize that you are developing a new set of people skills,” she said. “In a business, you can tell someone to do something by 4 p.m. and you expect it to be done. With a volunteer, you can’t do that. You have to approach it differently and you really start to learn how to manage people.”

There are many frustrations, she warned.

“Sometimes all you get is a thank you, and sometimes not even that,” she said.

“But there are great benefits such as networking, which is built into the role.”

Volunteering in trade groups allows instant networking and can be a huge boost for entrepreneurs and for salaried employees in their businesses and careers.

“It’s great because if you have an issue you can’t resolve yourself, you have buddies in the industry across the country you can call on,” she said.

Similarly, she said, attending larger trade shows as a representative of your own industry organization opens up other doors and high level contacts.

Keeping in touch with the needs of the membership is also important, she said, adding that the vision statement not only needs to be articulated regularly, it also needs to be questioned as to its validity by constantly surveying the membership.

A strong leader can cultivate a strong organization by delegating digestible tasks.

“It should be plug and play,” she said. “Give someone a task or responsibility with the tools to do the job.”

If it’s not clear, she said, volunteers tend to get awed and fade away and as such, burnout presents a huge challenge for associations, not to mention dwindling interest.

“You go to a convention and get some ideas but by the time you get back to the chapter your enthusiasm drops 50 per cent and by the time you get to a committee, it’s down another 25 per cent,” she said.

“You really have to instill that interest as a leader.”

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