Breaking the volunteer comms boilerplate

By: Robert J. Pye, CAE

Today, somewhere in our association world, there’s a skip in the step of a humble volunteer who just read these words:

“Wow!! Everyone is talking about how hard you worked at our association event last weekend. Your investment in time that you put into our registration desk, plus all your great ideas that went into the event planning, as well as door prize securement, took our mission and outreach to a new level. We liked how, on your own initiative, you helped our staff during the President’s reception. Because of your great example, we received several new membership inquiries from attendees. You delivered the kind of energy and thoughtfulness that represents everything we do. You are important to this organization. Your volunteer efforts made a great impact. Thank you again.”

Personalized words like those can’t be Googled. It’s from the heart, not the template. The timely, and carefully customized, execution of this sincere recognition came first from an association with a “deliberate design” for outstanding volunteer relations.

Advice on designing volunteer communications strategies was delivered in a recent webinar, and an information packed blog, produced by Managing Matters Inc.

“There is a foundational necessity for associations to recognize volunteers, nurture them and grow them because it links to succession planning and retention – two of the key elements that almost every group is struggling with,” said Jenny Faucher, President and CEO of Managing Matters.

“In general, I think the association industry knows about volunteer engagement but there is a whole world of expertise that comes with it. Foundationally, this is an area that as a community (of association leaders), we need to keep working on to get better. How can we dig deeper and do more for our volunteers?”

The expertise Jenny refers to come from her entire team, including an accomplished writer on the volunteer administration subject. She is no stranger to CSAE. Erin Spink, an Executive Director with Managing Matters was one of the original CSAE online instructors for the CAE accreditation program. Volunteer engagement is an association wheelhouse she proudly steers from, and has years of volunteerism best practise experience, and most recently Managing Matters’ enthusiasm for her to share it.

“The overwhelming motivation that most volunteers express is a desire to have a positive impact in their community,” said Erin, stressing that there is a difference between volunteer recognition and general appreciation.

She said there’s the generic brand “thanks for all you do” appreciation tone, and then there is acknowledging the individual and what they are doing, which is volunteer recognition.

“A volunteer engagement professional talking about designing volunteer opportunities, as part of the design, must always think about what we call line of sight. When we think about the things that we ask volunteers to do, their involvement is often focused on pieces rather than a whole project, making it harder for them to see the totality or end result of their contributions.”

Erin advocates for timely, personalized, and authentic communications that helps the volunteer understand how their specific level of service or skills in fact moves the needle for the organization’s mission. As illustrated in the introduction of this article, Erin suggests being very candid about the connection between volunteer time and any measurable gains or the “ripple affects” that the organization experienced as a result.

“A statement about the volunteer’s specific impact must be very deliberate in the design and in the communication because it’s not always visible or obvious to those who care enough to give up their time. We all want to feel good about the contributions we are making,” Erin said.

“This is what we talked about in the Managing Matters volunteer recognition webinar series. Volunteer recognition is not a once-a-year effort. It’s great that we have a National Volunteer Week when all the happy memes come out but if that’s the only time that you’re saying thank you, then you’re doing the antithesis of recognition.”

For more information, visit

Robert Pye, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, is a CSAE Trillium Council member and vice chair of the Forum Committee. @PYE75

Erin Spink, MA (Leadership) is an Executive Director with Managing Matters, with deep expertise in the area of Volunteer Engagement. She has contributed to the CCVA’s international accreditation textbook for her professional body, as well as served her provincial professional association as President. Erin was fortunate to be one of the original instructors with CSAE’s CAE online program. Connect with her at

Jenny Faucher is the President & CEO of Managing Matters.  She is proud to lead the team of thought leaders and passionate professionals that embody what MM is all about. Managing Matters partners with associations to develop synergies and growth in every way possible.  MM enables clients to grow, enhance their brand and deliver value to all stakeholders, by leveraging infrastructure, a staff team, as well as strategic and operational resources.  Connect with Jenny: