What happens if nobody steps up to lead your Association?
This is the question that a long-time Ontario lake association found themselves asking this summer. The association has been around for over 100 years. The current board executive has worked very hard over the last couple of years to take on a large project which has come to a very successful end. The board is burnt out and has put in more volunteer hours than they expected when they signed up.
And now they face the real problem that there is nobody stepping up to take their place. The current board has approached a number of people to take on leadership roles – all to no avail.
So what now? Is there any way for your association to avoid this situation?
FOCA asked a member of the lake association executive to sit down to discuss what happened, and if she saw any clear solutions:
[spoiler alert: the association has now found some people willing to step in, but they are still exploring longer-term solutions to the volunteer deficit they face.]
What happened? Why aren’t people stepping up?
“This association faced both a larger change in the way people volunteer, and a point-in-time crisis. The most obvious reason is the change in how we all spend our very limited leisure time. We used to see families spend the whole summer up at the cottage and often one parent wasn’t working – which meant more time to volunteer. With the change in lifestyles and responsibilities people are not as likely as they were in the past to have the time or desire to volunteer.”
We hear this at FOCA all the time. So, how do Associations continue their work when volunteer recruitment is a full-time job?
“Having a major project for this board meant that many of the volunteers were spending a lot more time than they thought on Association work. Did this scare off people who might have volunteered in the past? Lots of people saw how hard the association was working and perhaps weren’t interested in that level of commitment. Maybe having someone solely responsible for succession planning would have been smart – but who has time to do this when all hands on deck to get the project completed?”
Any advice for other associations?
“This association has always run the social hub for the lake – and this needs to be preserved, which takes a lot of volunteer time. Many people buy property here because of the social events that come along with belonging to the association, but the association needs to continue to change and adapt to social wants in order to keep people interested.
We need to start to really think outside of the box in terms of how we operate. Some radical changes may need to be considered for our associations to continue to attract volunteers. Thinking about some radical changes may not be what everyone wants, but may be what the association needs.”
So what can Associations do to keep people interested?
Here are some things FOCA has heard, that have worked for other lake associations:
- Increasing fees to be able to hire a part time Executive Director. This takes a huge load off of volunteers’ shoulders. Would people be willing to pay more for this model?
- Have a “sweat equity” model for fees. Example: you pay an extra $50 if you don’t do any volunteer work. This gives people the option, and the association the resources, to hire someone if nobody is interested in volunteering.
- Adapting the kind of social events the association holds – could a different type of event attract a different (younger) crowd of new potential volunteers?
- Have more flexible volunteer positions – some shorter term options, or break up some current positions that are responsibility-heavy.
- Always have someone on the board dedicated to succession planning, even if you think you don’t have time or resources. This is a mandatory position. (Although, in this case, the Association did have this position and they worked hard for 18 months without success…)
A special “thank you” to Susan Fisher, Past President of the Association of Stoney Lake Cottagers, for sharing her experience with FOCA.