Volunteers

While we have 20+ paid employees at the National Office, the vast majority of everything done by Mensa happens because volunteers come up with the ideas and make them happen. Let me begin by thanking both volunteers and staff for the hard work they do.

Personally, Mensa has been a labor of love for me. I’ve volunteered as LocSec, RG Co-Chair, Proctor, and RVC4. I’ve presented Leadership Development Workshops. I’ve worked Mensa booths at local conventions and the Minnesota State Fair, helping to promote our organization. I’ve hosted many Local Group events.

We have an ongoing debate regarding the correct balance between paid staff and volunteers. My observation is that the National Office does reasonably well at the bureaucratic tasks needed to run a multi-million dollar operation. We need people to do accounting, send renewal notices, score admissions tests, and a host of other repetitive jobs.

Few of these jobs would be well suited for volunteers. Sometimes, having managerial control is critical. For example, we wouldn’t want to miss IRS filing deadlines because a volunteer got busy doing something else and couldn’t get it done on time.

There are, however, jobs that can be done by volunteers – and done well. Our Annual Gatherings were once run entirely by volunteers. Now it’s a hybrid model with some paid staff and some volunteers. At least some of that makes sense. The National Office, for example, handles registrations, linking to our database’s membership records and payment systems. We also work with an outside vendor to help find venues that can handle a large event such as ours.

Our National Office does less well when implementing new projects. Communications and change management are ongoing challenges. As just one example, could a volunteer team have handled the Credly/Acclaim (digital badge) rollout better?

If we were to rely on more volunteers for national projects, we would need more structure around their efforts. We should insist on a project charter that names objectives, sponsors, project leads, team members, deliverables, details about what’s in/out of scope, project milestones, and success measures. We should regularly track progress to help ensure work gets done on time and with good quality. This may be uncomfortable for some who are used to complete autonomy, but many will be relieved to know what’s expected of them.

We can’t go back to the days of running Mensa with one person and a mimeograph machine in the basement. We should, however, always ask ourselves whether a volunteer can do a job instead of paid staff. If so, we should work to make that happen using industry standard project management techniques.

For more information about my thoughts on various Mensa issues, please click here: