Meaningful, career-enhancing volunteer opportunities are valuable to ASHE members and help members network, share expertise and make a difference in the field.
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Members are the lifeblood of any membership organization. They pay dues and develop content, are ambassadors to other organizations, fuel the engine to keep important strategies on track and so much more.
As the largest association dedicated to the optimization of the health care physical environment, the American Society for Health Care Engineering’s (ASHE’s) members are no exception. Indeed, since ASHE’s inception in the 1960s, members have remained the foundation of the organization, and their contributions are a critical element to ASHE’s success. Given the importance of members’ contributions as volunteers, it’s imperative to have a solid, well-run volunteer program.
For many decades, ASHE staff and members have served on numerous member volunteer groups such as committees, task forces, planning groups and more. In most cases, these groups were established to support the work of the strategic plan, which is revamped every three years.
In addition to groups aligned with specific strategic plan work, there are a handful of enduring member volunteer groups that manage and oversee regular processes such as elections candidate nominations, scholarship and awards management, and Senior and Fellow (SASHE and FASHE) recognition. This approach to member volunteer management had its own set of challenges, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, ASHE staff re-imagined what its member volunteerism could look like.
The impact of COVID-19 is felt across every department in any given association. At ASHE, travel restrictions and lockdowns severely limited members’ ability to volunteer, not to mention the fact that members’ critical roles in hospitals during the pandemic caused significant increases in their workload and stress, further limiting volunteer capacity. Essentially, most committee and task force work at ASHE came to a standstill.
Of course, ASHE members did not sit idle for long. The development of a new three-year strategic plan in 2021 was a perfect opportunity to reinvent volunteerism starting with a thorough look at the past, building on what worked well and improving on or eliminating anything that didn’t. This exploration included several meetings with key ASHE team members and member leaders, and culminated in a thorough understanding of how the ASHE volunteer program should evolve.
Keep what works, change what doesn’t
To start, the senior ASHE staff team conducted a deep dive into the current approach for volunteerism. “We had a solid place to start from,” says Chad Beebe, AIA, CHFM, CFPS, CBO, FASHE, deputy executive director of advocacy for ASHE. “In the last few years, we built out a committee action plan process to guide content and program development as well as a series of tools to help keep volunteer groups on track and help with communication up to leadership.”
Some of these processes and tools worked very well, and it became apparent that they should remain part of the new model. On the flip side, some of them had to go. Beebe states, “We need to tap into the knowledge, skills and expertise of our members and previously had process challenges to match our volunteers with the right opportunities.”
As the deep dive continued, it became clear that ASHE was not lacking for passionate, hard-working members that wanted to contribute their time and expertise to the ASHE mission. There was, however, room to grow in certain key areas.
The first area for improvement was strategic plan alignment. It became apparent that some member volunteer groups needed more specific direction on the projects and programs they were to develop to support the strategic plan. Committees were mobilized to get the work done, but their individual charges were often too vague, resulting in a lot of room for interpretation and potential to stray from the strategic plan.
To address this, the Advisory Board and senior staff management team added specific deliverables and milestones into the strategic plan and those specific pieces of information were included in each member volunteer group’s charter. Today, each member volunteer group has more concrete direction along with a list of expected deliverables. Moving forward, there should be little to no confusion on exactly what the volunteer group has been mobilized to achieve.
The second area of improvement was the level of flexibility and nimbleness of member volunteer groups. The previous model included a set of standing committees (usually dictated by high-level goals) that would be in place for the three-year duration of the strategic plan. Then, work would be assigned or “fitted” into this existing structure as projects arose. This didn’t allow for a lot of flexibility in mobilizing members on an ad hoc basis. It also limited the ability of ASHE staff to establish volunteer groups for smaller durations of time.
With the new structure, instead of creating standing committees with multiple year terms and set structures, most member volunteer groups are mobilized as needed to address work on a dynamic basis. Some of these volunteer groups will be around for the entire duration of the strategic plan and possibly beyond (at least three years) and some will be around for less than a year. Some are committees with multiple task forces, and some are standalone committees with no task forces. In addition, there are work groups, councils and other types of groups — all with different charges and expected deliverables to align with the strategic plan.
The result is that member volunteers are mobilized around specific work to be accomplished. The diagrams to the right illustrate this new approach. This new model will enhance members’ experience as volunteers, make the best use of their time and clarify how individual contributions make a direct impact. It will also make the work of volunteer groups more efficient, resulting in more new programs and projects delivered.
The last area of improvement includes a better structure for oversight and staff involvement in volunteer member groups. Each volunteer group has an ASHE staff person serving not only as liaison to leadership and other staff, but as the primary driver of work. This means ASHE staff will work very closely with the chair to coordinate, ensure project feasibility (operationally and fiscally), complete proper project documentation and manage workflow.
Instead of having committee and task force projects reviewed by only a steering committee of member leaders, a new oversight group including the Advisory Board Executive Committee (president, president-elect and immediate past president) and the ASHE senior staff management team was formed. This allows for better communication between volunteer groups because the staff members integrally involved can — and frequently do — work together. This communication and oversight helps eliminate duplicate work by member groups and anticipates projects that might conflict.
Member volunteer focus areas
With everything in place — a new strategic plan and a new approach to volunteerism — it was time to start aligning and mobilizing volunteer groups.
Operational optimization. Developing resources and education for members to help them achieve operational optimization at their individual facilities is a significant focus in the new strategic plan. As a starting point, ASHE needed to mobilize member volunteers to help decide on a set of statements or definitions to guide content development.
Jonathan Flannery, MHSA, CHFM, FASHE, FACHE, senior associate director of advocacy for ASHE, created the Operational Optimization Statement/Definition Task Force for this purpose. ASHE’s new approach to volunteer management was leveraged with this member volunteer group. The task force will mobilize for less than a year with a specific strategic focus. Much like the diagram on page 32, the specific work to be done (in this case, establishing a set of statements or definitions) is at the center, and member volunteers are mobilized accordingly.
Young and early career professionals. The new ASHE strategic plan includes objectives aimed at increasing recruitment, retention and engagement rates among young professionals (those about 40 years old or younger) and early career professionals (those transitioning into health care from other fields). This means ultimately delivering better and more member value. This area of focus was another perfect opportunity to implement the new approach to member volunteer management. To complete the work of the strategic plan aimed at improving the member experience for this segment of professionals, a new committee and several task forces were created.
Abby Lauck, PMP, marketing and business development associate at CMTA Inc., serves as chair of the new Young and Early Career Professionals Committee. “I’ve been involved with ASHE as a member and volunteer for many years,” says Lauck. “I’m excited about the new approach to volunteerism because it allows members to work together to address specific issues and opportunities within our field.”
Under the new committee, five task forces will work on projects in the areas of student and trainee support, mentorship, scholarships and awards, and member value. Lauck states, “As chair of the new committee, I’m looking forward to working with these member volunteer groups to enhance the ASHE membership experience for our future leaders.”
Sustainability and decarbonization. It’s no surprise that sustainability and decarbonization goals make up a significant portion of the new strategic plan. Kara Brooks, LEED AP BD+C, senior associate director of sustainability at ASHE, mobilized new member volunteer groups to get the work done. A new Sustainability and Decarbonization Committee was formed that included existing experts in the field with a strong track record of ASHE volunteerism. Then, projects and milestones outlined in the strategic plan were divided up among three new task forces.
The Health Care Decarbonization Task Force will conduct a deep dive into emission sources and then create resources for members based on the completed audit. The Sustainability and Decarbonization Foundations Task Force will develop a sustainability terminology guide and an ASHE health care sustainability annual report. Lastly, the Sustainability Leadership Task Force will explore innovative leadership training opportunities for ASHE members in the context of health care sustainability and decarbonization, and work on a communication document on the de-siloing of health care organizations with a sustainability and decarbonization focus.
Not only did ASHE revamp the model of volunteerism and associated processes, it had an eye on member volunteer recruitment as well. The following guiding principles are now in place to enhance the way ASHE ensures the right members are on the right bus and in the right seats:
Engage more members. Expanding the pool of volunteers in a meaningful, thoughtful way helps recruit more professionals into ASHE and increases the chances of members staying active in the long run. Meaningful, career-enhancing volunteer opportunities are valuable to ASHE members and help them network, share their expertise and make a difference in the field. Lastly, increasing the volunteer pool means more experts are contributing to the body of knowledge ASHE shares with its members.
Focus on diversity. Considering all types of diversity is paramount. Diversity, equity and inclusion are part of the strategic focus for both ASHE and the American Hospital Association (AHA). Ensuring that all underrepresented groups are given a voice and a chance to engage and lead means that everyone succeeds and any work done is of higher quality. With ASHE member volunteerism, other types of diversity also are considered such as experience level and type, personality type, work style, career stage and more. Having members working together from different backgrounds and perspectives means that discussions are richer, innovation is stronger and deliverables are better.
Include young and early career professionals. Building on the work of new member volunteer groups outlined previously, ASHE leaders understand that having young and early career professionals included in all areas of the organization is critical because it helps ensure a healthy pipeline of ASHE members; helps identify, train and nurture future ASHE leaders; helps with the larger industry challenge of succession planning and workforce issues; and allows for a fresh perspective with discussions and project development. This guiding principle encourages ASHE staff and leaders to always include at least one or two young professionals in their member groups.
Be flexible. When the work needed is at the center of member volunteer group mobilization, it results in a wide variety of types of groups and lengths of terms. When recruiting for member groups, types of expertise, required skills, length of term and type of service all depend on the work that needs to get done; member groups do not need to all look alike or fit into a rigid framework.
In the past, members had to know somebody or be in the right place at the right time to get access to volunteer opportunities. Today, all ASHE members have access, and the process is much easier. Indeed, the more members ASHE has engaged in meaningful, valuable volunteerism, the more likely they are to maintain membership for the long term. It truly is in the best interest of ASHE and the field to keep the entryway to volunteerism as wide as possible.
The My ASHE online community not only houses a prolific all-member online discussion board, but it also includes the ASHE volunteer network. Each ASHE member has access to the volunteer network and should create both a member and volunteer profile. This allows members to customize their profiles with pertinent information such as organization type, organization setting, areas of interest and expertise, and more.
Similarly, the volunteer profile includes information such as ability to travel, amount of time available to volunteer and professional skills. Ensuring member profiles are complete helps ASHE staff match members with the right volunteer opportunities. It also helps with the selection process when members apply for specific opportunities. The pathway for volunteering is illustrated on the graphic to the right.
Transparency leads to satisfaction
Often, members don’t know exactly what they’re getting into when raising their hand to volunteer: “How much time will I spend doing this?” “Will I have to travel?” “Will I have to write something or speak in front of a group?” “Will there be meetings to attend?” “How will I know if I’ve been selected and what is the process for selection?”
These are all reasonable questions and can be answered with a healthy level of transparency. In the volunteer section of My ASHE at my.ashe.org, members will see more information to promote transparency in member involvement. This includes approximations on amount of time involved, whether meeting and travel requirements exist, how long each term is, and what sort of experience and skills are desired.
Members can even use filters to search for opportunities that match some of these criteria. The volunteer opportunities listed on My ASHE include more information than ever before to help members find the right opportunity to match their schedules, abilities and interests. Indeed, a healthy volunteer/opportunity match depends on this type of transparency.
Regarding transparency around the selection process, ASHE plans to include more information soon. Building out a section for each opportunity listing that includes an overview of the review and approval process for candidates, clarity on how members are selected (e.g., which attributes are desired and how decision-makers operate), and information on a timeline for when members are informed about their applications are the next steps in building transparency.
In addition, setting expectations around past volunteer experience requirements is key. Sometimes, members will need to demonstrate prior volunteer experience at either the chapter level or at ASHE before they can be considered for a high-level leadership position such as Advisory Board member or even committee chair.
Therefore, future iterations of the volunteer network will include suggested member volunteer pathways and help members understand how they can advance into higher level leadership positions. These improvements will lead to higher member satisfaction, a willingness to volunteer again and again, and optimized deliverables for ASHE membership.
Tina Morton, MBA, CAE, is director of member engagement for ASHE. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.