Virtual Volunteers: A Trend, Fad, or Another Form of Member Value?

Canada's Youth Volunteers

An interview with Wendy Sue Lyttle, CAE by Kevin Jackson for CSAE Trillium’s Forum.
One of the trends we have observed developing is the emergence of e-volunteering, or volunteering where there is little or no physical presence required. To gain some insight into this trend we interviewed Wendy Sue Lyttle about her experiences as a volunteer for the American Society of Association Executives ( ASAE). Wendy Sue is a respected and well known member of the CSAE community, and principal of her own consulting firm, LAL Association Member Services. We started by asking her to provide some background on the ASAE volunteer experience, and how it came about, and then followed up with a series of specific questions, which she answered for us in context.

WENDY SUE: I was re-elected to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) for a second year in 2014, sitting on the Member Section Council.  There are 22 volunteers on the council. We have been dealing with core competencies of association management professionals and identifying hot issues  surrounding member engagement, retention, recruitment, as well as identifying the challenges of running a voluntary professional association.  We also screen speakers and facilitators for the annual Membership & Marketing Conference held in Washington, DC which sees over 900+ association professionals attending annually.

I also sit on two sub committees – Member Webinars and the newly created committee for the Taxonomy Project dealing with enhancing the previous ASAE Models and Samples on their website.  We work with Reggie Henry, the Chief Information Officer at ASAE and his staff and the project is very exciting.

We are spread out across the USA and they fondly call me the international representative as I am the only Canadian on the Council.  We connect via conference calls, web-based FaceTime meetings and face-to-face meetings twice a year in Washington.  Our sub-committees work in the same manner as well.  Email also supports our volunteer efforts.  ASAE has set up a very efficient process for volunteers and I feel connected, involved and contributing as part of a group of dedicated volunteers.

The Member Section Council is made up not only of association members but a few key suppliers, all contributing to membership & marketing.  There is also a Marketing Section Council, we collaborate and meet once a year together to talk about strategy around membership. These suppliers have the knowledge and research that helps us to make good decisions. It is a good mix. We also use Collaborate thru the ASAE website to post and chat on various marketing issues around membership. I would like to see CSAE develop the same online collaboration tools that ASAE has to interact and exchange knowledge and helpful support.

FORUM: Are all of the other committee members participating remotely as you are, or are some of them local and do they attend a face-to-face component of the calls?

WENDY SUE: There are about 8 local members and the rest are spread out; some in California, Baltimore, New York, Texas etc. Even for locals, the face to face component is web based, all are in their specific offices not gathering at ASAE except for the two yearly mandatory face-to-face council meetings, normally in February and June.

FORUM: What were some of the main reasons that you joined the ASAE in the first place, and secondly, got involved as a volunteer?

WENDY SUE: I wanted to expand my breadth of knowledge beyond what is happening in Canada. ASAE members are more proactive in leading-edge concepts with more resources to tap into as well as ideas.  CSAE national does not have a Member Section Council so it was a challenge for me to get accepted.  It took two years before I was accepted, putting my name in annually.

FORUM: Do you think you are achieving your goals by participating as a “virtual” volunteer? 

WENDY SUE: Yes definitely, I glean knowledge, friendships across the border and shared experiences.

FORUM: What do you think the benefits are for the Association in supporting this kind of volunteering?

WENDY SUE: If you are talking about ASAE….tapping into solid feedback from volunteers who are on the front line in positions related to membership and marketing within an association across a broad spectrum of associations.  ASAE Leaders share their concepts with the council and we provide feedback on what we believe works and does not work etc. 

FORUM: What, if anything, do you feel is missing from this experience, either for you as a volunteer, or the Association, and do you think that technology could be used to fill in these gaps eventually? 

WENDY SUE: There is a Collaborate site on the ASAE website which you might view as a chat line. Much is posted and there is feedback available on a range of subjects to learn from or weigh in on. It works wonders.  Cannot think about what other technology means would enhance this experience at present.

FORUM: As a long-time Association Professional, and holder of both a CAE and a CSP designation, do you see a trend toward more Associations engaging volunteers without a physical presence?

WENDY SUE: Face-to-Face has advantages but takes away from daily work load.  Handled properly and varied it works.  Dedicated commitment and funds to support face time is required from employers. I believe it needs a national mix not a local mix to work well depending on the mandate of the various committees that are struck. For myself, it is my own investment.