|Susan's Tip of the Month: Professional Associations for Leaders of Volunteers - It's Up to All of Us
All professions form membership associations to allow practitioners to meet one another, exchange ideas, and make collaborative connections. Most professional societies focus on the skill development of individual members by offering training opportunities - or at least continuing education to keep current on new trends and issues - and often validate member credentials through certification and other professional recognition. But these associations are also concerned with advocacy for their profession, engaging in lobbying, public relations, and other promotion that helps the public (and legislators or funders) to understand and value the contribution of the work.
There are many professional associations and networks for those in volunteer management, ranging widely in size and success. Many are open to practitioners who work with volunteers in any type of setting; others are "affinity groups" of people from the same type of service or setting.
In my opinion, our networks are strongest when they work towards four critical goals:
- To do things that support volunteerism in a community that would not be possible to do (easily or at all) by an individual agency on its own.
- To encourage exchange of ideas, skills, techniques among members and thereby raise the competencies of volunteer administration practitioners. In turn, this creates more effective volunteer efforts to help those we serve and volunteers themselves.
- To share resources and attract more.
- To have an impact on other professions that intersect with our work.
There is no single name for these societies, though two that are common in the United States are "DOVIA," which stands for Directors Of Volunteers In Agencies, and "AVA" appended onto a geographic location. For example, my own Philadelphia-area group is called DVAVA, or Delaware Valley Association for Volunteer Administrators. The Minnesota state association is MAVA, for Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration. AVA was the acronym for the previous international Association for Volunteer Administration, but none of the local groups were official affiliates. Today in the United States, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE) is building a new generic national association for the United States.
Healthcare volunteer management is the most well-organized special setting profession, with the national Association for Healthcare Volunteer Resource Professionals (AHVRP) in turn having state affiliates with local chapters.
These days affinity groups have formed online, without necessarily scheduling real-world meetings, such as AVPPA@yahoogroups.com for those working in the performing arts and several discussion forums on LinkedIn.
Energize has been trying for many years to keep up with the coming and going of volunteerism professional societies around the world, relying on our site visitors to submit current information. So wherever you are on the globe, please check our listings both for accuracy and to find other colleagues near you. And if you live someplace without a local network, take the plunge and start one!
How? It's not hard.
Think about which organizations in your area are likeliest to have someone assigned to engage volunteers. When you consider this, it's relatively obvious: hospitals, museums, schools, libraries, youth programs, parks and gardens...and you're off and running! Now telephone each institution and ask to speak to the person in charge of volunteers (if there isn't anyone, you'll soon know). Introduce yourself as a colleague and express interest in meeting. Make a date for lunch and get your new acquaintance to repeat what you just did and invite another leader of volunteers, too.
Aim for 4 to 6 people at the first lunch. This will allow you to really meet one another and figure out if you want to start some sort of local network for regular contact. Keep in mind that the most successful leaders of volunteers are, almost by definition, friendly, enthusiastic people-people. So you'll like these folks!
Determine who has a meeting room available for, say, 15-20 people. Set a date and a possible topic to discuss what would be of common interest, such as "creative ways to say thank you to volunteers." Agree to each continue the process of identifying colleagues and invite 3 new managers to this next meeting, arriving at the target number. (Note that this same basic, shared outreach remains successful no matter at what stage of development your professional association may be.)
At that second, larger gathering, discuss creating an informal structure and some upcoming meeting dates. Don't get hung up on bylaws, officers, or dues right away. But do collect and then share a list of names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. Get one person to commit to hosting a single meeting. If three people volunteer for three different dates, you may be set for the year.
Starting a professional association is not hard, but maintaining it is. Why? Because it requires a core group of people to give time and energy to keeping the meetings interesting and new members recruited. But it does begin with that first get-together of a few like-minded people. Without that first step, nothing can come next.