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Understand and Thank Your Volunteers
Christopher Gauger, EAA 746128, Chapter Field Representative I
November 2022 – EAA is an organization driven by its volunteers. AirVenture thrives because we have thousands of dedicated volunteers who come to Oshkosh every year to make the convention a reality. EAA chapters are completely volunteer-based, and their success is the result of committed individuals who devote their time and effort to help their local aviation communities.
It takes all kinds of people to make an EAA chapter exist. Many kinds of motivation encourage people to volunteer. Some of the most committed volunteers are not pilots, but they love aviation and want to help in some way. As a chapter leader, you should understand what motivates your volunteers to participate, develop an expectation of their availability and what they bring to the table, and thank them for all the hard work they do for your chapter.
You may have heard of the 80/20 rule: “80% of the work is done by 20% of the volunteers.” In other words, most of the work in a volunteer organization is performed by a dedicated minority of its members. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it means there will usually be a core group that can be counted on to get the work done for your chapter. However, you should not overwork your core volunteers, nor expect the same level of commitment from them every time they are called into action. Therefore, you should always be on the lookout to invite new people to volunteer, even if for only a small task.
It is tempting to stand up during a chapter gathering and make an open call for volunteers, or to recruit from your members via email or social media. While there is nothing wrong with these approaches, it is often more effective to personally ask someone whom you think would be a good fit for a volunteer role. You can have a conversation with that person and explain why you think they would be good for the role, and learn about their motivations and expectations. A personal ask can be enough of an icebreaker to make someone feel comfortable with volunteering, and it could encourage that person to volunteer again in the future.
For example, during the social time before a chapter gathering, you could go to one of your members and say, “Megan, you did a great job with setting up and serving food at the pancake breakfast this fall. Would you want to run the pancake breakfast next spring? Our current chairman will still be around as your wingman and will teach you what to do.” With this approach, you connected the member’s past experience with the new volunteer role, and you assured her that someone would mentor her in the new role.
Remember that for many people, an EAA chapter is their local connection — their lifeline — to aviation. Their time or personal circumstances may not always allow them to get involved with the chapter, but they still want that connection to their local aviation community. There is always the possibility that they will get more involved in the future if their circumstances change, and sometimes a bit of personal encouragement can convince them to help out.
There are many reasons why people join EAA chapters. When you recruit volunteers for a chapter activity, there are several things you can do to encourage them to get involved.
- Understand their reason for involvement — Why does someone participate in a chapter? Why does a volunteer want to help? Can you connect their motivation to a particular volunteer task?
- Communicate your expectations — What do you expect from your volunteers? What do you expect someone to do in a particular role? Inform your volunteer of what task you would like them to work on. Let them know if someone will be able to mentor them.
- What are their strengths and interests? — Can your volunteer help with a particular role that is relevant to their strengths or interests? If a member volunteers for something they are good at, then they will be more likely to succeed and thus be happier with the experience.
- A personal ask is appreciated — As previously said, asking someone in person, one-on-one, to volunteer can be far more meaningful than inviting volunteers via email, social media, or an open call at the chapter gathering.
- Be flexible — Understand that volunteers may not be able to help at every single chapter event. Work around their schedule and yours.
- A little food never hurt — Food is a great incentive to bring people to chapter gatherings, and it is also a great way to invite volunteers to participate in your activities. For example, you could order a meal for the pilots and ground volunteers at your Young Eagles rally to eat after the event is over. At your pancake breakfasts or hamburger fly-ins, make sure your volunteers get a chance to eat as well.
At the end of the day, you want to thank your volunteers for the time and work they devoted to the chapter, and you want to show them the difference they made. A feeling of appreciation will help a volunteer see the value of their work, and it will encourage them to volunteer again.
To help chapters recognize their volunteers, the EAA chapters office provides Chapter Service Awards at the end of each year. Each chapter receives a package with certificates and pins to commemorate their officers, from presidents and treasurers, to web editors and newsletter editors, to Young Eagles coordinators and Ray Scholarship coordinators. We also include blank certificates and VIP pins that chapters can use to recognize special volunteers who went above and beyond in their efforts. A perfect occasion to present these awards is the chapter gathering or holiday party at the end of the year or the beginning of the new year.
You can also nominate volunteers for the Chapter and Young Eagle volunteer awards at AirVenture. Nominations for these awards open in March each year. The EAA chapters staff will select the winners and award them at ceremonies during the convention in Oshkosh.
Volunteers are the bedrock of EAA chapters, and they are key to any chapter’s success. Remember that people have all kinds of reasons to participate in chapters, and some just need a bit of personal encouragement to step up to volunteer. Don’t forget to thank your volunteers and recognize them for their efforts. Through the spirit of volunteering, we can continue to keep The Spirit of Aviation alive and thriving.