Last year, the National Association for Gifted Children designed a satisfaction survey for its member volunteers to get a better sense of how volunteers felt about their committee experience. Here’s how NAGC used data to launch a subsequent volunteer orientation that brought greater clarity, structure, and support to member volunteers.
When Meagan Roloff, CAE, joined the National Association for Gifted Children in April 2023 as director of member services and engagement, she knew she’d be working on strengthening NAGC’s volunteer program. To meet its volunteers’ expectations, the association needed to understand how volunteers felt about their experiences within their committees.
“I put together a committee volunteer satisfaction survey,” she said. “We wanted to get a baseline before we intervened, to get a sense of what we’re dealing with.”
NAGC wanted the data to help inform its volunteer orientation, so it designed the survey with that approach in mind. From the findings, the association was able to create an orientation that focused on inclusivity and the onboarding experience to ultimately get the committees functioning optimally.
Using a survey to understand what member volunteers want can help them become more independent and confident in their role, which allows them to do better work for their committees and the organization.
Last fall, NAGC piloted a survey for its committee members to examine the overall experience and look at how each individual group was faring. According to Roloff, this work helped identify the strengths and weaknesses of NAGC’s volunteer experience and committees that needed more guidance from the board or staff support.
The survey included typical questions asking participants how much of an impact they think they’ve had as well as questions examining volunteer experience longitudinally—for example, whether volunteers would recommend the experience to a friend or colleague.
NAGC committee chairs received the standard survey and a second one about their leadership experience. The goal was to make sure these committee leaders had the clarity they needed from the board and staff as well as the resources to lead their groups and get their work done.
“We found similar themes in both surveys,” Roloff said. “We saw there was some confusion from committee members and leaders about where and how their work fit into the big picture. That helped us design the orientation to specifically address those concerns and provide them with better clarity and intentionality.”
Using the Results
Since the survey showed that member volunteers didn’t have a clear sense of how their committee work fit into the association’s vision, NAGC’s orientation included an overview of the association, a deep dive into how the committees fit into the ecosystem, and greater clarity about the role of each committee’s staff partner.
“As association pros, we sometimes take our knowledge for granted,” Roloff said. “We know that the board sets the strategy, committees are the engines driving the decisions, and staff bring subject matter expertise. But our volunteers don’t know unless we tell them.”
Through the orientation, NAGC was able to demonstrate that volunteers weren’t working alone—that staff are around to help them succeed. According to Roloff, small changes between the staff partner and committee chair can help, such as setting up a one-on-one call prior to a committee meeting, which can go a long way toward helping volunteer leaders feel supported.
NAGC will issue a second volunteer member survey this year examining several of the same impact questions and determining whether there’s been improvement over the year; specifically, whether members understand how their work fits into the ecosystem and whether they feel less directionless.
“Seeing improvement in these areas would be proof of concept that we can use this survey on a macro level for all committees, and on the micro level to diagnose and address problems in specific committees,” Roloff said. “These members are going an extra step and volunteering their time. We don’t want their volunteer experience to be bad. Hopefully, by doing this regularly we can intervene sooner.”
Roloff anticipates there might be better results on the second survey since the volunteers have gone through an orientation and have clearer guidelines around their work and about staff partner roles.
“We need to invest in our volunteer members and help them develop leadership skills and knowledge within the association industry,” she said. “We’re doing what we can to get what we need from our volunteers now and helping them be the type of leaders we’ll need for the future.”
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