Print Page | Contact Us
NCBP News Issue 2, Vol. 2: Micro Volunteering – How to Engage Limited Availability Volunteers
Share |

Micro Volunteering – How to Engage Limited Availability Volunteers

By John E. Thies, NCBP Communications Committee Chair


When I was a young lawyer, I was asked to chair a group organized by our local United Way called the “Volunteer Center.” The purpose of this effort was to develop creative ways to facilitate volunteerism within the Champaign-Urba

na community in a host of worthwhile organizations. It was a great experience, and excellent training for me as I later became a bar leader tasked with involving and empowering thousands of lawyers across Illinois in many valuable volunteer opportunities.

Bar associations thrive on volunteers to help them provide numerous products and services to thei

r members and the public. Yet, we are now in an age where, for most lawyers, volunteer hours are at a premium. How often has someone told you they’d like to help but “don’t have the time?” All of us in the world of bar leadership must learn how to keep busy volunteers engaged, creating micro-opportunities for them to still make a macro difference. Our associations and profession depend on it.

Successful bar associations leverage volunteers in a wide range of areas from continuing legal education, to publications, to meeting planning and public service. But, we all know how difficult it is for lawyers – especially new ones – to juggle their work, family and social lives with bar service. Creating opportunities for micro volunteering – i.e., engaging people to accomplish tasks in small increments of time -- is something we all should be doing (of great benefit to our associations), and this is easier than you might think!

Start by making a list.

As president of the Illinois State Bar Association, I started by having a list of all of the categories of appointments I would be making. Beyond the usual section councils and standing

committees, I included special committees to address topical needs (such as court funding and the law student debt crisis), but also to try to meet potential volunteers where their passions were (taking into account their time limitations) -- even if this involved non-traditional service. In this latter category, I saw a chance to introduce new volunteers to bar work, without overwhelming them with enormous time commitments.

Use Micro Volunteering Opportunities as a Stepping Stone.

One of the non- traditional projects we started during my presidency was called “Lawyers Feeding Illinois.” This was a philanthropy project that set out to involve lawyers and judges from all over our state to raise 1 million meals for the eight regional food banks. Along the way, we hoped it would involve those who may not otherwise be interested in doing active bar work – and it worked. Not only did we greatly exceed our goal of 1 million meals (we raised 4.6 million), but it also involved hundreds of lawyers who may never have done bar work, and led to three members of our “LFI” special committee being elected to the association’s board of governors!

Market Micro Volunteering Opportunities.

People need to be aware of the volunteer opportunities available to them, including the expectations you have for those you appoint. While you should always give people the opportunity to “self-select,” the best way I found to gain the participation and commitment of a new volunteer is through a personal invitation from the president. It’s not possible to talk to everyone you will be appointing (in Illinois, I had more than 1,000 appointments), however, for your special projects, I strongly recommend speaking to everyone directly. You should communicate why the discrete job is important, and why you feel the person is uniquely qualified (despite any time limitations they may have).

These are just a few tips for how to use micro-volunteering opportunities to enhance your association and presidency. For more information on this subject, I suggest you visit the following sites: