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Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Association Volunteers

Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Association Volunteers

By Sarah Lampson

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA) and an integral part of all programs and services. From the board’s leadership and operational work to that of all our committees, special interest groups, professional development opportunities, mentorship and awards programs and other services, CARA would not exist without its members’ important and significant contributions.

In the past three years CARA has seen a 400 percent increase in volunteers because we:

  1. Keep asking. Every time I talk to members – whether in person at event, over email, on the telephone or even if a member comes forward with a compliment, concern or complaint – I ask them to volunteer.
  2. Promote the value of volunteering to members. The CARA webpage states “All CARA members are invited to realize the full scope of the practice of research administration through volunteer opportunities in leadership, membership engagement, mentoring, publishing, teaching, editing, researching, event planning, and other areas. Volunteering is a great way to enhance your career, expand your professional network and have fun! You will gain additional experience and help guide the future of research management in Canada.”
  3. Restrict volunteer roles, except those involving webinar and conference presentations, to members. CARA seeks experts from within our membership for teaching and also recruits international experts, but the rest of our roles are either limited to members or members have the right of first refusal. CARA frequently gets requests from non-members who want to participate in our community without paying dues, but volunteering is one of the benefits of membership.
  4. Advertise all opportunities on our website and highlight them on Twitter and LinkedIn channels.
  5. Profile volunteers in our newsletter and include their important testimonials on our webpage.
  6. Created a comprehensive volunteer recognition program that includes tangible benefits such a free webinar registration, an invitation to an exclusive President’s reception at our national conference and an annual thank you from the President that is also copied to a volunteer’s work supervisor(s) if requested.
  7. Expanded our awards program to provide more opportunities to recognize diverse volunteers. In the past, the association only recognized very new or long term volunteers, but now there are awards for exceptional mid-career volunteers and those who engage in working on priority initiatives identified by the board.
  8. Established a membership engagement committee which has several mandates, one of which involves recruiting more volunteers and enhancing the volunteer experience.
  9. Created a new membership category for retired volunteers so they could continue as members at no extra cost as long as they continued serving as volunteers.
  10. Developed an annual volunteer survey. Historically the volunteers would answer some specific questions in the general membership survey, but last year CARA launched a separate volunteer survey. Volunteers are our most engaged members, and the feedback and ideas that come from these key stakeholders has been very rich.
  11. Provide training to volunteers.
  12. Succession plan for volunteer positions, prioritizing the leadership positions and those with specialized skills that are hard to recruit 

Our board is now reviewing a draft volunteer policy while staff work on role descriptions for all volunteer positions and also develop a volunteer performance review template.

Our association’s volunteers are our association, and it is the privilege of members to volunteer and a honour for the rest of the members to benefit from their generosity, leadership and expertise. One of the best ways for members to raise their profiles, expand their networks and contribute to the evolution of the association is to get involved in volunteering and CARA does regular benchmarking and surveying to ensure they have the best experience possible.


Chandler, F, Kirk, M, Lampson, S and Porter, K. (2015) Revere your Volunteer: Volunteerism and the Transformation of CARA Association Magazine (August-September) 30-37.

Lampson, Sarah. "Volunteers." CARA Volunteer. Canadian Association of Research Administrators, 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. 

Lampson, Sarah, and Katie Porter. Revere Your Volunteer: How CARA Mobilized Its Volunteer Base in 12 Months. Proc. of CSAE Trillium Winter Summit 2015, Holiday Inn Kitchener Waterloo Hotel & Conference Centre. Presentation.

Sarah Lampson is the Executive Director of CARA and works with the Executive Board to provide organizational leadership and develop and implement its strategic plan. Sarah’s key achievements include significantly increasing services to members, a proven track record of strong financial management and stewarding international partnerships that have resulted in the development of Canada’s first professional qualifications in research management and administration. Since Sarah was recruited to CARA in 2013 membership has increased 15% and the number of members volunteering with the association has increased 400%. Sarah has co-authored two books and is a nominee for the Hamilton YWCA Women of Distinction awards in March 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @lampson_sarah.




Volunteers, Best Practices, CARA


Op-Ed, Guest Contributor



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