Association Volunteers – What Motivates and Keeps Them Coming Back


Written by Renee Schneider.

Working onsite at client meetings and large events, we have the fortunate opportunity to work with many great association volunteers who “raise their hand.”  Volunteers are an essential part of these events and it is important that we find and retain them.  The “old days” brought volunteers who had spare time, people looking for something to do.  Decades ago, many women were not yet working outside the home and looked to volunteering for “something to do.”  Even though women still volunteer more than men, times have changed and spare-time is a precious commodity. To be successful in attracting and retaining volunteers, we need to know what makes people volunteer in the first place. 2

People are motivated to give of their time and talent for various reasons.  Their reason may be a way of giving back, or personal, but always for a purpose.  Most volunteers respond to three main levels:  Basic – self-serving drive, Secondary – relational drive, and Highest – belief drive. 1

Self-serving volunteers are there for networking opportunities, business as well as personal.  It may meet their need for friendship, belonging, or growing their customer base. Volunteering may be their route to new employment, or making new friends. These volunteers are there for their needs, but also may have a lot to offer – making it a win/win situation for both.

Relational drive often comes from not being able to say “no” to a friend or colleague. Investing in relationships is one of the strongest stimulators for our inner motivations, making this one of the most effective recruiting tools.

Belief is the strongest level of commitment and this volunteer is highly motivated.  These people volunteer because they believe the cause is right.  It involves a person’s passion and they are more willing to commit.

Pamela Saunders, a volunteer for TH Mgmt’s client the North Carolina Medical Group Management Association (NCMGMA), continues to be a dependable and a frequent volunteer – both with the organization’s committees and onsite at events.  She stated she volunteers to support the organization that she has been a member of for many years.   She likes meeting the many people that she otherwise would not have met (healthcare, conference management, hotel management, speakers, etc.), and has had the opportunity to learn more about other areas of healthcare outside her specific area.  Pam enjoys spending quality time with other volunteers and has a chance to learn more about them (business and personal).  “By having a relationship, you can reach out to them for advice, questions, etc.”  Over the years, she has established and enjoyed long lasting friendships.  “It’s rewarding to see goals achieved!  For those on the fence, give it a try!  It’s fun and you will definitely gain something from the experience.” 4

It’s imperative to remember that the benefits of volunteering go both ways, to the organization as well as the volunteer.  Keeping our volunteers happy is vital to the organization retaining them.  Understanding why our volunteers have “stepped up” and recognizing their contributions, as well as their needs, is essential to making it a good experience for both the volunteer and the organization.



  4. Pamela Saunders, CMPE
    Director of Information Systems and Managed Care
    Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Association, PA
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