Are you a leader of an all-volunteer association? Maybe a professional society, friends group or auxiliary, faith community, fraternal order, or service club? If so, it's a good bet that you are always seeking new members.
The problem, though, is that it's not enough to swell the membership rolls. What you really want to find are new people to give time and energy to your organization's projects - in other words, you need volunteers. If your approach is to speak only of the benefits of membership in your group, never assume that someone who joins as a member intends to volunteer!
These days, most new volunteers are looking for short-term assignments or projects. They may subsequently be willing to do more, but they are cautious about falling into a bottomless pit of service obligation. So beware the word "join"! It implies a minimum of a year's commitment, if only in paying dues. It focuses on affiliation and group identity, before the newcomer really can know if s/he will want to remain part of your circle.
So instead of looking for new members, attract people to a project your group is doing. Get them interested in your cause and eager to help accomplish something. This means going beyond "whom do we know?" Do the same sort of targeted recruiting that an agency-based program would do and find completely new folks who share an interest in your activities.
Of course you can explain that they are invited to become a full member, but do not make that a requirement to do some useful work with you on the project at hand. That way, even if someone chooses not to join for the long haul, you at least gained some help for a time. But more often than not, participation in the project becomes a two-way get acquainted opportunity that leads to greater involvement in a natural way.
Conversely, perhaps you should stop recruiting new people and concentrate instead on activating those already on the membership rolls. What percentage of your members come out to work on a project? Are willing to run for office or serve on a committee? If it's a low number, start with internal recruitment. A few tips:
- Be specific in your call for volunteer help. Don't assume members understand what a project or role is all about, especially if they haven't been active recently. Explain it and give details about when, where, how, and how long.
- Get your board to telephone inactive members randomly for a quick check-in chat. (Why not? You're all in this together.) It's a great chance to ask why each person is disengaged. Maybe you'll identify some areas for improvement. However, make the calls armed with a list of things to be done and intentionally ask the member to one of them. Never forget that the number 1 reason people volunteer is because they were asked.
- At dues renewal time (and with the initial application for membership) ask more information than how to contact the member! Ask things like profession, or languages spoken, or special interests they might be willing to share. Then keep a record of the replies somewhere and see if you can match your volunteer needs with what you know about each member. This is another way to issue a clear, personal invitation to volunteer.
Finally, keep asking! Some members are simply not able to give more time at certain stages of their lives and just want to remain dues-payers. But when their personal life changes, they may feel uncertain about how to revitalize their participation. So don't write anyone off, even if you haven't seen them for a while.