Transforming the Relationship Between Membership Bodies and Volunteer Groups 

Rogue Samaritans

The relationship between membership bodies and their specialist or regional volunteer groups is one that has grown organically over time, typically to provide networking opportunities for members outside of geographic constraints. These volunteer groups have been thrust into focus by GDPR, which has exposed them as presenting high compliance risk. Membership bodies are consequently having to make decisions about how these relationships will work going forward.

Purple’s recommendation is that rather than making a quick decision based solely around compliance, this presents an opportunity to re-imagine the value that can be derived from these groups and make appropriate transformation to enable that value to be realised. Read on for our overview of the benefits that can be derived from transforming how you work with your volunteer groups and our 5-step guide to achieving a transformation that works for everyone.

The Problem

Membership bodies typically have very little oversight into what their regional or specialist sections do. A typical volunteer group may run events, capture membership leads, disseminate regular knowledge updates, connect members to each other, undertake surveys, and some may even run their own websites and/or process membership applications and take payment. All this is often done on personal hardware, using software or third parties the membership body has not procured.

This scenario commonly leads to:

Transforming the work relationship between the membership body and volunteer groups can:


5-step approach to transformation

1. Define the vision and value add of your volunteer groups

  • What value do you, and critically your members, want to derive from volunteer groups?
  • How should volunteer groups contribute towards your strategic objectives?

Determining the answer to these questions will help you to define how the relationship should work. It will also support the volunteers in understanding their role and responsibilities, whilst also providing a baseline for the value add the organisation wants to achieve. An example might be ‘We want the volunteer groups to support our goal of connecting professionals in the sector by providing local networking opportunity for members’.

2. Understand your current (‘As is’) state

  • What are your volunteer groups doing presently?
  • How are they doing it?

3. Define your future transformed (‘To be’) state

Review the outcomes identified at step 2 and make decisions about whether to:

  • Stop them entirely if they do not align to the vision
  • Maintain them, but determine whether the volunteer group is the most appropriate place to deliver the outcome, if not, consider:
  • Centralisation into an existing capability
  • Centralisation into a new capability
  • Outsourcing
  • Continue to deliver them in the volunteer group

It will be necessary to define what a successful outcome looks like and how success will be measured. Bear in mind that this process is likely to necessitate at least some, possibly major people, process and technology change.

4. Deliver your transformation

To some extent this is likely to be a case of peeling away the layers of an onion. Overnight change should not be expected, given you are working with regionally disparate volunteers. Instead, you will need to define a realistic transformation roadmap to prioritise the areas to tackle first. Our top tips for delivering the transformation are:

  • Evaluate your stakeholders to work out how to get your volunteers onboard for change – some will embrace it, while others will see it as taking away their control.
  • Prioritise groups who are on board – once the tidal wave of change starts, stragglers will eventually be washed away or jump onboard. Expect to lose some volunteers along the way.
  • Pick low hanging fruit first – stop doing things that don’t add value i.e. those outcomes that don’t achieve your vision
  • Don’t forget that you will need to create a common contract between membership body and membership group, so that everyone is on the same page going forward!

5. Monitor and evaluate

Let the change bed in, then test it. Ask the question: Are we delivering the value we hoped to deliver at the outset? This will require you to have defined some measurable targets against those outcomes from the outset, as noted in step 3.


Rather than a decision around compliance, this is an opportunity to re-imagine the value that can be derived from volunteer groups to your overall strategy and make appropriate transformation to realise this value. Transformation can improve your retention and conversion rates, keep your volunteers and internal staff happier, as well as providing greater oversight and harmonisation of technology and process, which will support reduced compliance risk.


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