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Recruiting and Retaining Chapter Volunteers

October 2017 - EAA is an organization built on volunteers. Whether it is helping the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration come together each year in Oshkosh, or assisting at a local chapter function, EAA volunteers get it done. However, it can sometimes be difficult to recruit and retain volunteers.

As longtime members grow out of their volunteer positions, chapters are left scrambling to recruit extra help for their events. These four tips should help your chapter recruit and retain the help needed to execute your next chapter event.

Personal ask

“Don’t forget, our next Young Eagles rally is scheduled for Saturday the 23rd and we still need volunteers to help with ground activities. Is anybody interested in helping?” The room sits silent as the president waits for an eager volunteer to step up. Eventually, one of the members raises a hand and offers to help, but the chapter is still in need of three more volunteers, so the president asks the members to talk to the Young Eagles coordinator to see if he or she is interested.

How many times have you seen the above scenario play out at a chapter function? It typically leaves the leadership feeling discouraged, volunteers feeling overtaxed, and an overall deflated feeling in the room.

The best approach to help eliminate this issue is to make a personal ask. Rather than ask a roomful of chapter members if anyone will help, approach an individual member before or after the meeting to inquire whether he or she would be interested in assisting with a specific task.

Members like to know exactly what will be asked of them, so you can specify exactly what the volunteer duties will consist of. In addition, it is much more difficult to say no when asked face to face if one could assist with a chapter event.

Understand your volunteers

EAA members are some of the most talented and passionate individuals out there, so be sure to leverage these traits. Many chapter members have talent — aviation and non-aviation related — that the leadership sometimes doesn’t know about.

When members join or visit your chapter, learn why they are there. Ask what brings them out to the chapter, what they expect to get out of the chapter, and how they believe they can benefit the chapter. This will give the chapter insight into the skills and specialties of each member.

Now, when searching for volunteers, individuals who are more likely to excel in that role can be chosen. For example, say the chapter had a member who joined because he was very passionate about sharing aviation with the local community. This member would be the perfect fit to assist with public relations and marketing efforts.

The personal ask can be made in the following manner. “Jim, I know how passionate you are about public outreach and educating the community about aviation, so can you assist us with the public relations and marketing aspect for the upcoming fly-in?” This is sure to make the member feel like his passion and skill are of value to the chapter, increasing the odds that he successfully executes his duty.

Create teams

Some of the most rewarding takeaways from joining a chapter are the comradery and relationships that are built among the members. There are many great opportunities for members to build relationships within the chapter, but perhaps one of the most beneficial is by volunteering as a team.

Volunteer groups are a great way to integrate new members into volunteer activities and encourage them to get to know other members of the chapter. In addition, when the personal ask is made to volunteer, group members will feel comfort in knowing each is not responsible for the entire task. No member wants to let the chapter down, so be sure individuals know the success of an event does not hinge solely upon his or her execution.

During and after the event, the team will have the opportunity to relish in their success and celebrate together. For future events, this team is more likely to stick together and try to improve on their former success.

It is important to remember that new team members should be included occasionally. This will help avoid cliques and help members bring a new approach to accomplishing a task.

Recognize your volunteers

A few months after AirVenture 2015, I was on the phone with a longtime Oshkosh volunteer. This gentleman mentioned to me that he had been volunteering at Oshkosh for nearly 30 years, but his deteriorating health had him contemplating whether he would continue to volunteer. However, a few weeks after convention ended, he received a thank-you card in the mail, which was signed by EAA CEO and chairman of the board Jack J. Pelton, thanking him for volunteering in Oshkosh. This longtime volunteer said this simple thank-you card was enough to encourage him to volunteer his time at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016. He mentioned he felt valued and that he was making an impact on the event.

The power of a simple thank-you goes a long way with volunteers. Many times, volunteers simply want to know their efforts made a difference to the cause, which is one of the most effective ways to recognize them.

It is human nature to want to make a difference and be recognized for contributions. After volunteers spend a Saturday flipping pancakes, cleaning tables, or escorting kids to a Young Eagles aircraft, consider how you can thank them for their efforts. A thank-you card, a mention in the monthly newsletter, or even a mention at the next chapter gathering are great ways to acknowledge their contributions.

If your chapter is looking to thank volunteers in a more extreme manner, consider offering them an airplane ride. It can be easy for a pilot to forget about the desire of non-pilots within the chapter to get airborne. It can be eye-opening to see how little some chapter members get the chance to take an airplane ride. Offering volunteers the chance to get airborne and behind the controls of a unique aircraft is a surefire way to make sure they understand their efforts are appreciated.

Share your tips

Does your chapter have specific tips for recruiting, retaining, or recognizing volunteers? Post these tips in EAA’s Chapter Leaders Chat on Facebook! Not on Facebook? Share them on EAA’s chapter forum here!

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