Maximizing Volunteer ROT

8 Nov

No, not volunteer decay — Return On Time. That is, getting the most from the time your volunteers have to given.

My experience with associations comes from being a volunteer, primarily with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). I imagine that my experiences as a volunteer are probably representative of most people volunteering time for an association. So, I think that the following observations are likely true in general, and represent a challenge in trying to get the most value from volunteers. As a volunteer, I find:

  • The time I can commit to the organization varies wildly. Some weeks I am able to put in 10 – 15 hours, while others its basically zero.
  • Occasionally, I have prolonged periods of absence (say 2 – 6 months) due to other commitments.
  • Its difficult for me to predict in advance how much I can commit to.
  • My contributions often occur outside of normal business hours.
  • I am remote from the ACM’s headquarters, so my opportunities for face-to-face interactions with staff are limited.

The project management side of me recoils in horror at this. Trying to establish any sort of plan when you are faced with this level of uncertainty is pretty much impossible. But the problems go ever deeper than that. The lack of continuity in my interactions both with staff and other volunteers means that its very easy for my contributions to fall through the cracks. It also means that I am not necessarily well-coordinated with other volunteers, and so we may up working at cross purposes.

One way to help ameliorate these problems is through an online community which includes both staff and other volunteers. Such a community would allow me to:

  • become better acquainted with people
  • to share my contributions with a wider audience
  • to coordinate more effectively
  • serve as a repository for institutional knowledge
This doesn’t solve the problem of uncertainty around how much time I can commit, but I do think it means that when I can commit, my time will be used more effectively.

One Response to “Maximizing Volunteer ROT”


  1. Elektrische Zahnbuerste - December 7, 2011

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