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8 Strategies to Justify a Volunteer Leadership Development Program

August 16, 2018

Your leadership team has expressed an interest in using a more structured approach to developing volunteer leaders beyond a workshop or two. Since association boards do not lack for numerous opportunities to invest scarce financial resources, the ability to move forward with a formal leadership development program rests upon your skills as an influencer. 

 

How do you write a justification for such a program that can influence your board to make this strategic commitment of resources? Consider these eight strategies.  

 

1. Understand your board and how it makes decisions

 

It is critical to understand your board and how they make decisions to elicit their support for a leadership development program. For example:

  • What is the right mix of qualitative and quantitative support for your proposal?

  • Should you float the idea verbally then submit a written justification or vice versa?

  • Does the board need detailed data in members own words?

  • To what extent does the board like to see best practice examples from similar associations?

  • Are you the right person to pitch the idea to your board? 

  • Do you need a champion on your board who socializes the concept before your formal presentation? 

 

2. Gather justification data to build your case

 

There’s nothing quite like getting the voice of your members in front of board members to build support for a formal leadership development program. This component should ideally be a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. 

 

Qualitative data sources might include:

  • References to leadership development in your association’s strategic plan

  • Perceptions of your members about the challenges they face in their efforts to advance their careers

  • Observations of board members about the effectiveness of volunteer leaders such as committee chairs

  • Best practice examples from other comparable associations demonstrating how they implemented leadership development and its impact

  • Input from members about the extent to which they receive leadership development support from their employers

Quantitative data sources include:

  • Member renewal statistics 

  • Size and quality of your leadership pipeline

  • Evaluation data for existing professional development programs

  • Member satisfaction survey data

 

3. Consider a pilot program

 

Many boards are more open to supporting a leadership development effort if it begins as a small-scale pilot program. Association boards with little or no experience with formal leadership development programs are often more resistant to fund a full-blown initiative.  The key is to reduce the number of the participants and duration of the program to lower the cost and make outcome data available at a reasonable interval. It is also essential to elicit input from your board members at the beginning of a pilot about the outcomes that would justify a more significant investment in a complete program later on.

 

4. Clarify your influence goal

 

Many times leaders fail in their influence attempts because they are unable to paint a clear picture of success. Examples of influence goals associated with implementing a formal leadership development program include:

  • Conduct a needs assessment study to determine the needs and potential design of a leadership development program.

  • Conduct a small-scale pilot leadership program with a limited number of participants for a relatively short length of time (e.g., 6-9 months).

  • Support the full implementation of a leadership development program with funding for multiple years. 

 

Our experience has been that the most effective way to implement a leadership program is to ensure there is adequate funding to make it available for multiple years. Otherwise, it will have limited value in achieving your success outcomes and frustrate your members who might view it as a flavor of the month.

 

5. Build a link it to your association’s strategic priorities

 

An investment in a comprehensive leadership development program can be substantial depending on the components. Therefore, it may be critical to explain how such a program will advance vital priorities such as improving member engagement and satisfaction, enhancing member retention, increasing the capacity of members to advocate for the progression, or building a pipeline of leaders for future board roles. Reviewing your association’s strategic plan is a critical place to start.

 

6. Integrate leadership development with other talent management processes

 

Talent management is more than merely developing leaders. We have found that some associations fail to achieve their objectives for a leadership development program because they haven’t considered how to identify and select future association leaders as well as ways to keep them engaged after they receive training in a formal development program. One association we worked with decided to set aside certain committee positions for graduates of their leadership development program to provide a means for engaging them quickly. The bottom line is that a well-written board justification identifies how your leadership development initiative will integrate participants into the governance of your association.

 

7. Determine success outcomes

 

Clarity about successful outcomes can make or break a justification. For example, is the focus of your program to develop your members to succeed in leadership roles in their organizations, build skills to enhance their ability to function as volunteer leaders in your association, or both? Other associations we have worked with made a case for a formal leadership development program by explaining it would help fill their pipeline of volunteer leaders for committees and ultimately board positions. 

  

8. Build in strategies to measure success

 

Having identified your success outcomes, how will you measure progress? We often draw upon the work of Donald Kirkpatrick and his four levels of evaluation to create success measures for our clients:  satisfaction with the experience, learning, behavioral changes participants gained, and organizational impact. 

 

Examples of organizational impacts and strategies to measure include:

  • Member satisfaction by comparing pre-learning measures of satisfaction with and post-learning tests.

  • Size of your leadership pipeline by comparing a count of the number of members that are ready to function as association leaders before the leadership program and afterward.

 

Leading associations today recognize the importance of proactively developing future leaders to ensure their long-term sustainability. By writing a well-developed justification that incorporates these eight strategies, you can enhance your ability to influence your association's board to make these strategic investments.

 

# # # # #

 

Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience developing resilient change leaders in the association sector. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California and Washington, DC. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or kevin@nourseleadership.com

  

(c) 2018 Kevin Nourse 

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