Growing Professionals, Growing Associations
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March 26, 2014
By Beth Brooks, CAE

I recently received a personal email from a nonprofit for which I volunteer. It was a rambling letter and after I read it, I could not figure out what they were asking me to do – either serve on a committee or attend an afternoon “get to know us” event.

I was a bit confused as I am an instructor for this particular group and have been for two years. I wrote back and explained that I was familiar with the group, but was unclear as to the purpose of the email. They responded and told me I was being considered for a new committee slot, and they attached a generic brochure about the organization and noted the financial obligation I would be expected to donate if selected.

That exchange brought forth several emotions. One, I was upset that they would be so nonchalant about asking someone to serve in a leadership role. I was horrified to think that this is how some organizations select volunteers. It appeared to me that they had no idea who they were emailing. Perhaps they just randomly send emails to “prospects” and hope that someone with time and money will respond.

Secondly, I was appalled at the poorly written email. It was not clear what they were trying to say or ask for. While I enjoy the volunteer work I do for them, I am having second thoughts about being involved with a group that appears to have no idea how to deal with volunteers, much less how to communicate.

In our roles at associations, we need to constantly review how we are recruiting volunteers. What are we asking our members to do? Do we know what skills they have? What about their interest and time to help? What is the vetting process, and how we are making the “ask”?

The bigger the ask, the more you need to make it a personal request – not an email. Know your members, understand their skills and make sure they will benefit from the experience as well as feel good about giving back. More importantly, understand your message and be able to convey it clearly.

The request I got from this organization appeared to only want my money and introductions to important business contacts. That is asking a lot from me, and the casual confusing email did nothing to peak my interest.  In fact, it was off-putting.  With such an impersonal approach, I am not sure I want to offer my help either.

Read more about vetting volunteers

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