It is not uncommon for a society or a charitable trust to find it difficult to find suitable volunteers to fill committee positions or to serve as chartable trustees. This is a worrying situation for those still prepared to serve, and no statute or constitution will help find volunteers when there are none!
Why are there no volunteers?
Those advising organisations with a dearth of volunteers have no magic wand to wave to solve the problem, so the first question to ask is why volunteers cannot be found. The reasons can be many and varied, and should be analysed. Some of the common reasons may include one or more of the following:
- Perhaps the organisation’s purposes have run their course, in which case the perceived need for an organisation to exist may have disappeared. For instance, when women gained the right to vote societies seeking that legislative change had achieved their purposes. Some such societies might have morphed into political parties or into lobby groups or might have altered their purposes to pursue related causes, but others would simply have ceased their activities. Do those considerations apply?
- Even if an organisation’s purposes have not run their course the way the organisation is operating may have ceased to inspire involvement or to be effective. This may be the result of those in leadership becoming tired or stale or upsetting the organisation’s supporters, or the organisation itself may just need to be reinvigorated.
- All too often those governing an organisation are so immersed in “doing” or managing, that strategic thinking and planning ceases to feature in their thinking. An essential responsibility of those in governance is to make policy decisions, and that includes strategic planning. There are people who specialise in leading strategic planning sessions to tweak what an organisation does and how it does it, as well as people who offer training in better governance.
- Changes in society can and do undermine organisations. For instance, an aging population in a residential area may reduce the need for a local organisation to teach parenting skills. However, more insidious are the generational, cultural and economic changes that, in recent years, have reduced the pool of available adults willing to join societies and to volunteer their time to govern. This is the subject of the article Does Your Organisation Have a Future. Belinda Moore’s thought-provoking article “Membership Is Dead?” is also well-worth reading.
- The final common reason for the lack of volunteers to govern may lie in the personalities of those who currently govern or effectively control an organisation. They may have so alienated the organisation’s members or supporters that no-one wants to volunteer for governance duties. The article Dealing with Difficult People and Situations may be of assistance in such situations.
For those still enthusiastic about advancing an organisation’s purposes, seeking to increase community involvement in the organisation is an obvious first step, but consideration should also be given to why the problem has arisen and whether changes in purposes and/or personnel might make it easier to attract volunteers to the cause.
If, on analysis, the organisation has run its course, the best thing may be to wind it up. If the organisation has valuable assets being used by the community those still involved in it must decide whether to transfer such assets to another organisation as part of the winding up process or whether they should be sold by a liquidator.
Apart from the articles referred to above, Omer Soker’s book, The Future of Associations, 2017, published by the Australasian Association of Society Executives is thought-provoking.