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Creating a Strategic Volunteerism Plan: We Did It!

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Most organizations have a strategic plan, a fund development plan, a marketing plan and an IT plan. Why is it that so few have a volunteerism plan? Recognized as the oldest voluntary health organization in the United States, the American Lung Association began a three-year planning process for volunteer involvement only six years ago. The Association recently took a different approach to the process, resulting in a volunteerism plan that has ownership from many stakeholders, simultaneously building both the culture of volunteerism and the capacity to sustain it.

In this feature story, authors Mary Ella Douglas, Melissa Gilmore, Katherine H. Campbell and Marybeth K. Saunders explain how they created the Association’s latest strategic volunteerism plan. They first reached out to colleagues in other organizations to ask if they would be willing to share their strategies with them and learn from each other; surprisingly, they did not receive even one plan from their search. Instead, what they heard time and again was, “What a great idea!” and “We don’t have one, but we’d love to see yours when it’s finished.” Using a process that included representation from all levels of its structure as well as external volunteers, the American Lung Association proceeded to create a revised volunteerism plan in about nine months. This story documents the authors’ experience, one that produced principles and a process that can be applied to most organizations as they embark on developing a strategic volunteerism plan of their own.