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NESEA Strategic Plan Highlight: Provide an Outstanding Volunteer Program

by Jennifer Marrapese

Aug 30, 2017

Goal 4 of NESEA’s recently adopted Strategic Plan reads: “Provide an outstanding volunteer program by developing onboarding, engagement and recognition processes to attract new members, and keep current members working toward NESEA’s mission.” I interviewed Jenna Ide, the board member who is championing this goal, to learn more.

JM: Why did the board prioritize this particular strategic goal? Why did you opt to be the board liaison?

JI: NESEA's members and volunteers are a critical part of our community, and NESEA wouldn’t be NESEA without them. This particular strategic goal is interesting because we already have pretty well developed mechanisms for engaging our members and volunteers. Rather than charting new territory, this goal calls for us to build on something that’s already working quite well. We have a good base to start from, but we hope to find ways to build our leadership pipeline, and allow our members the opportunity to network through their service to NESEA.

One of the reasons I was chosen to be the Board champion for this goal is that I’m relatively new to the Board. I can look at our volunteer and membership programs with fresh eyes. It’s also been a great opportunity for me to learn more about the inner workings of NESEA. Being on the Board, I have seen just how critical volunteers are to what we do. I had never been part of an organization with such a member-driven culture. If you don’t understand how heavily we rely upon members to develop our content, then you can’t really “get” the fullness of what NESEA is. Our culture is very unique.

I can also bring to this goal my background in tracking results. In my work for DCAMM (the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance), I did a lot of tracking of efficiency and sustainability measures. One of the challenges associated with Goal 4 will be to figure out what to track to measure volunteer engagement, and how to gauge our success. We’ll need to keep in mind the capacity of the staff and our members and volunteers to track their efforts, because if we adopt something that’s too complex, people won’t embrace it. The goal is to make our tracking useful but not onerous.

JM: Can you talk a bit about the ways in which NESEA uses volunteers? How important are they to how NESEA operates?

JI:  We offer varying levels of volunteering, based on our members’ interests and what they’re good at. We typically use volunteers for two different types of roles: on-site logistical support for our conferences and events (which is the type of volunteer role people typically associate with nonprofits) and content-related volunteering. NESEA is unique in how we engage members in curating almost all of the content we present in our programs - not just the conferences, but also the Pro Tours and BuildingEnergy magazine.

There’s intense effort involved in creating the member-driven content we feature in our programs. I have never seen this level of involvement in other membership organizations I’m familiar with. It shows in the quality of our conferences, Pro Tours and other programs.

JM: What is NESEA currently doing with respect to Goal 4? What steps will the board and staff take to build upon that work?

JI: Because we already have a lot of volunteers who are well versed in our current process, we will be asking those volunteers to take the lead in documenting their current scope of responsibility. So, for example, Betsy Glynn and Andrew Webster, the co-chairs of BuildingEnergy Boston in 2018, are helping us write job descriptions that really reflect the work they are doing, and the amount of time they are committing. That way, we don’t risk missing or overlooking important parts of the work.

We also plan to survey current volunteers and members to better understand whether and how they might like to become more involved. For example, does one of the session champions aspire one day to be a conference chair? This will allow us to build a pipeline of future leaders, and to help them build their skills and capacity so they are equipped to take on new roles as they are able.

Ultimately, we’ll also develop mechanisms to track how we are using volunteers and members, and how these member/volunteers are becoming more (or less) engaged over time.

JM: You also serve on the NESEA nominating committee. How does this goal dovetail with the work the nominating committee is doing?

JI: We’ve been developing a list of potential board candidates, and have recognized that there are many very talented members who don’t want to serve on the board, but would prefer to be involved in other ways. We want to bring these folks in and engage them.

Goal 4 can also be used to help us identify new talent to groom for future Board service. To the extent that we are able to plug members into new volunteer roles, we can gauge their commitment, and they can increase their involvement in a measured way before moving immediately into Board service. This strategic goal will ultimately help make our Board nomination process and our funnel of candidates more organized and robust.

Also, as NESEA grows, our need for really high quality volunteers will grow as well. It will be important for us to expand the circle of those in key volunteer roles rather than “going to the same well” for conference leadership, Board leadership, and other volunteer opportunities.

JM: Anything else I should have asked?

JI: It strikes me that all the goals in the strategic plan are interrelated. We’ve separated them out to make the plan understandable and achievable. But Goal 4 relates closely to Goal 3, which calls for us to diversify our membership starting first with Emerging Professionals. If we create clear pathways for EPs to build their networks and their leadership skills through volunteering on NESEA committees, we’ll be more successful in attracting and retaining them.

It also relates to our desire to expand our presence in the Commercial and Institutional arena, and to fulfill the promise of our entire service territory - in particular, large cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, that have been historically underserved. If we are to grow in these areas, it will only happen through member engagement, so it’s important that we continue to build upon our already strong membership engagement and volunteer programs.

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Jennifer takes care of the big picture: How do we make NESEA’s multidisciplinary network of practitioners bigger and better? She works with the board of directors and the membership to establish NESEA’s strategy and to ensure that the members and their staff have the resources to execute it. She practices a philosophy of openness and collaboration. She’s known for her strategic sense and for her ability to forge strong partnerships among staff teams and collaborators alike.

Before joining NESEA, Jennifer served as vice president of regulatory affairs for Cox Communications and as...

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