Need More Hands on Deck? Recruit Online Education Volunteers

It’s easy to come up with great ideas for enhancing online education programs. We love doing that for you, and your members probably do too. However, execution is not so easy. You can only do so much. Most likely, you already have way more work than you should and hiring help is not in the budget. But here’s another idea that might actually help: enhance your programs by recruiting online education volunteers.

The benefits of online education volunteering

Many associations are finding it difficult to recruit volunteers for board and committee positions, but we’re talking about ad hoc or microvolunteering tasks that don’t require as much of a commitment.

The impact of online education volunteering for your association

If volunteers take over tasks that staff usually handle, you’ll have more time to work on other priorities. But that’s not all. Many of these volunteer opportunities allow your association to provide something your competitors don’t. These value-add features will enhance and differentiate your online education programs from the competition.

These opportunities will also bring more volunteers into the pipeline. You might attract a completely new set of volunteers because this work quite different from the usual committee service.

How volunteers will benefit

The impact on the volunteer will depend on the specific task. Many of the ideas we share below fall into the ad hoc/microvolunteering category since they require only a onetime or one-hour commitment, but others require a longer commitment. Microvolunteering is a way for a busy member to make a difference. Because most of this work is virtual, members aren’t limited by their location or travel budget. They don’t even have to put on shoes!

For some members, this work will be more rewarding than serving on a committee because they get to contribute to someone’s growth and can often see the impact of their contribution right away. Education is a rewarding volunteer opportunity.

Many of these volunteering jobs involve other people, which will help reduce the sense of isolation common to remote workers. Volunteers get to enjoy social interaction while they expand their professional network.

They can improve or learn new skills, stretch their comfort zone, and increase their confidence. These extracurricular activities look great on resumes.

Volunteers are also a trusted source of feedback for your association. They can share their observations and suggestions for improving the learner experience, course, or program.

Online education volunteer at work - a success coach (man) talking with an adult learner (woman) via Zoom

The impact of online education volunteers on learners

The whole point of creating these volunteer opportunities is to improve the learner experience. Because of these volunteers, learners will feel more supported. They’ll make quicker progress. The learning experience becomes more engaging. Learners know you are taking extra special care of them.

The many volunteer opportunities in online education programs

Invite members who have completed courses and participated in educational programs—your alumni—to consider these volunteer roles since they already have the content expertise. You can also reach out to other qualified members who want to contribute their time and talent.

Online courses

Teaching assistants. These volunteers help facilitate online course discussions, check in with individuals and groups on their progress, help create videos and other instructional materials, and/or provide support to learners when needed.

Education guidance counselors. These volunteer success coaches work with members to identify the courses, certificate programs, and volunteer activities that will help them achieve their professional goals. They map out a learning plan that directs members (or others) into your association’s education and credentialing programs. They also help learners develop study habits, figure out how to manage their time, and overcome obstacles to their professional growth. They can even hook the learner up with others on the same or similar career path.

Facilitator for cohort-based courses. Recruit one or two volunteer facilitators for each cohort taking the course. They also serve as liaisons who can notify staff of any logistical needs.

Content curators. These volunteers help staff identify relevant articles and resources for curated content bundles or curated newsletters.

Video testimonials. Ask alumni who have successfully mastered and applied course content to record a video on the impact the course (or other program) made on their job or career.

Beta testers. These volunteers try out pilot programs and provide feedback on the learner experience.

Online groups

Member advisory groups. These groups of members representing different market segments help you understand their interests, stumbling blocks, and educational needs; identify trends; and review prospective or existing programs. You could organize advisory groups by career stage, position, specialty, or type of business.

Peer advisory groups. Recruit facilitators who can provide guidance and handle logistics for peer advisory groups. In these groups, six to ten non-competing professionals in the same business (and size of business) or at the same career level meet regularly to learn with and from each other.

computer screen showing the phrase "Do more" - a plea to enhance learning programs with online education volunteers

Virtual conferences

Conference session review. Invite qualified volunteers to review and score session proposals. Limit the number of proposals that each person reviews so the work doesn’t become overwhelming.

Breakout room and chat box hosts. Assign volunteers to breakout rooms to moderate discussions. Volunteers can also moderate the chat box, answer general conference or logistical questions, and provide resources.

Social meetup hosts. Conference attendees want opportunities for conversations with their peers. Don’t let staff limitations get in the way. Recruit volunteers to act as hosts or moderators for purely social meetups and for networking discussions. Schedule these meetups throughout the conference week: coffees, lunches, and happy hours.

Virtual events

Post-webinar online discussion. When a webinar has a lively chat box, continue the conversation within a week or two on Zoom, so attendees can keep the momentum going while seeing the faces of the others they met in the chat. Use breakout rooms for discussions if the crowd gets too big.

Recaps and reviews. Invite members to write a recap for the association blog of any webinars, conference sessions, or other industry events they attend. Encourage members to write book reviews too.

How to support your online education volunteers

Promote. Post all volunteer opportunities—from board to committees to microvolunteering—on your website. Keep this list up to date and promote it continually. Be very clear about time, experience, and expertise requirements.

Target. Send targeted recruitment emails to members who are course or program alumni. Since they understand the content, they are best qualified to assist learners. Look also beyond the usual suspects. Target recent retirees and people in between jobs who may appreciate a resume booster.

Train. Make sure these volunteers take your online instructor training so they understand adult learning principles.

Gather. Host an online community discussion group for your online education volunteers. In this forum, they can get advice, ask questions, and share tips with fellow volunteers—another networking opportunity they’ll appreciate.

Thank. Thank volunteers personally. Consider giving them promo credits for their own professional development.

Listen. Ask for feedback about their volunteer experience.

Recognize. Too many associations make the mistake of only giving public recognition to board and committee members. A microvolunteer may have little time to spare but they’re sparing it for your association. Give them the recognition they deserve.

An online education volunteering program is a win-win for the volunteer and the association. These members expand your potential and enhance the learner experience while doing work that feels meaningful, yet not overwhelming. It’s a feel-good opportunity all around.

online learning
online courses
virtual education
member engagement
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