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Challenges for Attracting & Retaining Volunteers

Challenges for Attracting & Retaining Volunteers

Key challenges for attracting & retaining volunteers to serve at regional & world levels

The following section will outline and explore the key challenges facing volunteer organizations in the attraction and retention of volunteers at regional and world levels. The challenges can be outlined as follows:

  • Attracting skilled board/committee members
  • Role clarity
  • Board/committee members’ development
  • Process and culture
  • Accountability and stewardship
  • Leadership
  • Measuring board/committee effectiveness


  • Give opportunities for individuals to form supportive teams that complement each other
  • Use a team role personality profile like Belbin Team roles to discover and maximize the roles in your team

Belbin Team roles: A theory discovered by Dr. Meredith Belbin and her team in the 1970s. They found that ‘different individuals displayed different Team Roles to varying degrees.’  Visit www.belbin.com for more information.


Attracting board / committee members

Finding qualified volunteers to serve at regional and world levels continues to be a challenge as today’s boards/committees require greater skills, expertise, experience and time than ever before.

The availability of qualified volunteers has been reduced. The key issues organizations face in attracting qualified members include: member liability, finding and retaining qualified people, succession planning, the nomination process, election criteria and removing members that do not meet the needs of the organization.


Role clarity

As board/committee members strive to perform their governance duties, role clarity is exceedingly important in a number of areas.

Area of expertise: When an election is based on skills, the volunteer will bring a different range of expertise and competence that would fulfil the needs of the board/committee. This will help build a better understanding of the strategy to be undertaken for regional and world growth and sustainability. Each member will be responsible for one specific area of work that is well defined from the beginning in order to avoid redundancy. Governance versus fundraising: Non-profit volunteers often play a dual role in governance and fundraising. This can pose a risk of becoming the fundraising arm of the region or world and leaving the governance function behind.

Governance versus management: The board/committee members’ role is to work closely with the management (staff members) and set the parameters within which management can function. The volunteers’ are responsible for the strategic and financial stability of the organization. Together the volunteers’ and staff role are to work in partnership to define and deliver on the organization’s strategic goals. It can be challenging for many organizations to reach this critical level of understanding.


Board /Committee development

Three main challenges exist in the area of board/committee development:

  • becoming more of a board based solely on policy
  • training – time issues and constraints
  • training – developing the training to accommodate the varied knowledge base, cultures and experience of participants
  • developing board/committee members – and overcoming inertia

Becoming more of a policy board is particularly difficult when board/committee members believe that they, rather than staff, are responsible for running the day-to-day life of the organization.

WAGGGS is challenged with a need to do more to orient and educate board/committee members around their roles and responsibilities, policies and practices, culture and history.

Training on specific areas of work can potentially help the volunteers better understand WAGGGS’ aims, which in turn helps them to fulfil their responsibilities for the organization.


Process and culture

It is a challenge both to develop effective volunteer policies and processes that are in line with an organization’s capabilities and to develop a successful board/committee culture.


  • Process paralysis - Committees can become paralyzed by process and must find the right balance between focusing on important issues and getting the process right.
  • Compliance vs. governance - The focus on compliance often distracts from the strategic governance of the organization.
  • Risk taking - Some boards/committees have developed the “on the safe side” syndrome where the board is full of minutes and documentation to make sure that every “i” has been dotted as its way of reducing risk. This type of risk-reduction strategy does not increase the effectiveness or efficiency of the committee.
  • Adopting appropriate governance practices – It can be difficult to stay up-to-date with governance practices being embraced by the commercial world and introducing these practices, where appropriate, into their region with cultural relevance and sensitivity.
  • Board/committee engagement - WAGGGS need members who take their governance responsibilities seriously. Being a committee member is an active job not a passive exercise. Consequently, it is crucial that prospective members understand their responsibilities and those current members recruit individuals with a passion for the organization and a willingness to serve.


Accountability and stewardship

There is a need for more formalised accountability and stewardship. It is a challenge to put in place the processes necessary for accountability and good donor stewardship.

Example: Donors are increasingly mindful of how their money is spent to ensure that it is used for its intended purpose. Increasingly, volunteers are not prepared to ask corporations for money if they cannot tell them how the organization used their last donation.

Effective stewardship requires your current board/committee to prepare the way for the future board/committee. It is the board/committee’s responsibility to ensure that the organization is left in the hands of capable leaders, including leaders who are representative of the organization’s constituencies. The long-term viability and strength of WAGGGS will expand as the board fulfils its duty to plan for its succession and to address diversity issues.

Higher expectations for board/committees and a greater sense of responsibility on the part of staff require that board members ask more probing questions and tackle difficult issues at the board table. Thus, there will be more emphasis on business acumen and increasing pressure on board and committee members to sharpen their focus.



  • Board leadership: A good chair will ensure that there is an effective board/committee. In addition to the challenge of finding a good chair, the committee must develop a process to measure the performance of volunteers.
  • Retaining good people: Retaining good people is a challenge at all levels of WAGGGS. With the increasing demands on women of all ages, WAGGGS needs to be creative in the way we use this very precious resource.
  • Power: If the balance of power is not maintained between the chair, board/committee and staff, one individual or group can have too much power. This potential imbalance of power, either perceived or real, can lead to problems and/or conflict in the organization.
  • Measuring board/committee effectiveness: It is important to determine the appropriate monitoring and evaluation methods for board/committee performance and effectiveness. The following check points can assist you in starting to think about in measuring and evaluating your organization’s effectiveness.


Check Points

How do you:

Attract board/committee members – how can you improve?
Clarify the roles
Develop your committees and their members
Describe procedures and culture
Ensure accountability and stewardship
Structure the leadership
Measure board/committee effectiveness


Successful practices

CHALLENGE #1: Recruiting qualified board/committee members

Successful practice #1: Establish a “Spot candidate strategy”

Spotting potential candidates is an ongoing process that requires active and ongoing cultivation in different context and settings (spotting good trainers in the regional training pool, good fundraisers in a regional fundraising event, skilled communicators …)

  • Know exactly what and who you are looking for
  • Advertise and make use of member organization websites/magazines…
  • Call for nominations in an attractive way
  • Encourage volunteers and assess them for suitability for the board/committee
  • Look for community leaders
  • Actively seek candidates from the “professions”
  • Have an application process with defined criteria and required competencies based on position descriptions. While there is no control over who gets elected, try to control the quality of the candidates
  • Encourage application from outside the national boards
  • Encourage application of candidates under 30 involved in their communities


CHALLENGE #2: Training, engaging, orienting, and developing committee members

Successful practice #2: Commitment by the organization that committee development is a priority

  • Be honest in telling new board/committee members what being on the board is all about and the process for change. Set clear expectations before you ask them to join the board.
  • Arrange for the chair to meet with new board/committee members individually or in small groups to outline plans, purpose of the organization, and expectations.
  • Involve board/committee members in some aspect of the organization so they experience what the organization is all about.
  • Have board/committee members’ retreats that are not just about strategic planning, but about the current and evolving role of the board/committee.
  • Set aside time at least once a year to look at where the committee is going, i.e., governance planning, etc.
  • Bring in some stakeholders, e.g., girls and young women being served who can speak passionately about the cause and the issues.
  • Encourage young leaders on the committee. It is good for a variety of ages, bringing different experience, to be on the Board.
  • Bring in experts to help with an education process around obligations and responsibilities. Bring in legal counsel. This gives people peace of mind and clarification.
  • A committee file with policies and procedures is great, but doesn’t work if you do not have a champion to promote its use.
  • Committee development should be prescriptive and mandatory.
  • Create a “critical friend” approach as a way of supporting each other.


CHALLENGE #3: Roles & Responsibilities

Successful practice #3: Clarity and transparency

  • Have very clear regional and world board guidelines that can be followed easily and readily
  • Define the role of the board/committee, subcommittees, each committee member etc.
    • Agree on clear ways of working
    • Agree on the decision-making process
    • Agree on a communication system and the flow and sharing of information – what, how much and to whom
  • Information within the committee
  • Between the committees
  • WAGGGS and committee
  • MOs
  • Link internal and external training closely to board/committee member’s responsibility
  • Talk about sensitive issues openly at the committee level.
  • Start out by reviewing various governance models and adopting a model of practice. This will determine the preferred direction and ongoing education requirements. Preferred direction has to be in keeping with mission, vision, values, strategic plan and the region’s needs. Once that direction has been determined, you can import the ongoing education.
  • Ensure that the committee agenda is focused on
  • strategic world and regional issues. The board/committee is responsible for leading the change.
  • Partners and external consultants should be involved where specific skills are needed.
  • Encourage open, frank and timely communication between all concerned.
  • Work towards clear roles and expectations.
  • Mutual respect, which includes an ability to disagree and a level of comfort that your comments will be received well and that you will not be barred as a result of expressing your views.
  • Trust is essential and in order to build trust, one must deliver.



So far in this resource we have looked at:

  • What succession planning is
  • Why it is important
  • How it is going to support your organization
  • What the benefits of succession planning are
  • Succession planning in WAGGGS
  • Changes and trends affecting succession planning

The next section will take you through the process of creating a succession plan for your organization.

Before you move on consider the following questions in your current leadership teams.

  • What are the main challenges we need to be aware of in our organization?
  • What are the opportunities succession planning could offer us?
  • What are we already doing to support the succession process?
  • What could we do more of to improve?

You may not have all of the answers at this point but some discussion could generate new ideas and thinking as you enter the process.