04: Engaging Members in the Work of a Society

The Focus on Engaging Members

This aspect of membership growth involves primarily growth in quality, and only indirectly growth in quantity. It focuses on the extent to which current members of a society devote energy toward carrying out the work of the society. Of course, the work of the society is sometimes carried out by paid staff–leaders, teachers, administrators and caretakers. But much often remains for the members to handle as volunteers. The focus in this section is about encouraging, maintaining, and acknowledging volunteers in the work of a society. Beyond getting the work of a society done, the members of the Growth Research and Learning Team believes that increasing the number of members who volunteer creates a stronger, more vital society that is more appealing to prospective members.


This focus section contains ideas, devices, tools, procedures for increasing volunteering by members in our societies. There are three types of material included in this focus:

1. Guidance for persons recruiting and coordinating volunteers

2. Examples of tools for recruitment

3. Sample job aids for volunteers

As the end of this focus section after the attachment there are references to materials covered in other focus group sections that should be considered as the context for volunteering in ethical societies.

Sources of Engagement Material

This section refers to discussions and devices presented in Great Expectations, which is available from the AEU Web site after you obtain a password provided by the AEU office. The section also includes other discussions and practices from the author’s society, The Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia (EHSoP).

[updated: Great Expectations can be found at this site. You still need a password.]


1. Guidance for persons recruiting and coordinating volunteers:

See Stephanie Dohner’s analyses and related suggestions for recruiting for hard-to-fill volunteer jobs and for helping volunteers avoid burnout (These are in her introduction to section on Volunteering in Great Expectations, a section that contains many ideas for recruiting and coordinating volunteers. Some of those are referenced in the following paragraphs)

Of course, it is very good to proclaim appreciation for volunteers to all members and associates in events and newsletters . The Washington Ethical Society has used an attractive “Kudos” page to recognize volunteers.(See this in the section on Volunteering in Great Expectations.) Acknowledging volunteers may seem like a no-brainer, but preplanning can make the recipient of the praise more meaningful than a spur of the moment “thank you” with applause.

Don’t forget that a society’s social action projects are also opportunities for members to volunteer for the work of the society. To increase social action volunteering, actively solicit member input on priorities for social action projects both in the society’s local community and on more wide-scale state, national, and international issues. An outward-directed but local social action project that involves face-to-face contact with nonmembers of the society can be valuable for introducing nonmembers to the society, as well as being fulfilling to the member participants. At the EHSoP, social action projects have not attracted many members, though they have provided some of the members and platform attenders an opportunity to express their concerns through the society.

2. Examples of tools for recruitment

Include pledges of volunteer activities in the annual pledge drive — pledging time on a checklist of involvement activities, as well a pledging money. EHSoP has tried including pledges of volunteer time in its annual call for pledges of money. Although several members who completed the time pledge part of the pledge form said they appreciated this acknowledgment of the importance of time, a majority of the pledge drive committee thought that having pledges to volunteer along with pledges of money prompted members to decrease their monetary pledges. An alternative is to have at a different time a separate form for volunteering for activities, don’t refer to it as “pledging” to volunteer, and request the form’s completion at a distinctly different time from the monetary pledge drive.

Board members or other (a “Volunteer Coordinator”) make personal calls at least once a year to each member to request help for specific tasks and thank them for prior volunteering. It would be important to keep a record of involvement by each member, so that the caller will not asking for more from those with much involvement but instead will be thanking them.

In the initial meetings with a prospective or new member, the Leader or others in lay leadership positions might explore the person’s interests and mention specific ways that the person might be involved. In the EHSoP, there has been some difficulty using this means of recruiting volunteers, because there is often no sufficiently close match between the person’s interests and the volunteer opportunities. A related approach is to have brief descriptions of volunteer activities that these persons can review. They can then determine themselves which opportunities might best suit their interests and abilities. The prospective volunteer makes the match rather than the Leader. WES has developed such a description of volunteer opportunities, and it is included in Great Expectations.

Have a sign-up list  with time requirements indicated for each area needing support (see the form in the Volunteer section of Great Expectations). A GRLT member reported, however, that WES noticed better results from personal invitations than from the form. Between a sign-up list and personal invitations is scheduling around a platform periodically (e.g., twice a year) or as needed, presentations and question & answer sessions with chairpersons of the standing committees, with a call for volunteers for the committees.

3. Sample job aids for volunteers (Note that job aides are usually quite detailed, and therefore are tailored to the way the jobs are defined in the particular society. Thus, they are presented here only as illustrations of how jobs might be defined.)

Letter for Elder conducting New Member Interview – WES (In the section on volunteering in Great Expectations.)

Usher checklist – EHSoP (Attachment 1)

Guide for greeters – EHSoP (Attachment 2)

Relation of This Focus to Other Growth Research and Learning Team (GRLT) Focuses

Following the attachments, there are comments about how other GRLT focuses are helpful in engagement members in the work of a society.




  • If, for any reason, you are unable to fulfill your commitment, notify the head usher and/or your partner but it is your responsibility to secure your replacement from the experienced group.

Unless you all ready know, check with those in the know whether there is something special going on that Sunday. Determine if you will need keys to the building and office. If so collect the keys from the Society Administer or make another arrangement with those who already have keys.


  • Arrive at the Society around 10:30 AM
  • Check out the front of building and remove trash.
  • Put out parking cone on 19th street from comer to the Bus Turns do not park sign.
  • _Pick up flowers from next door (1900).
  • _Unlock front door. The alien wrench to secure door in unlocked position is found in bottom middle tray in mailboxes in office.


  • Turn on the lights (House 1,2,3) plus the spot lights and starlights over the piano and switch for stage floor receptacles. _Find box of equipment in the office.
  • Move Podium to center (needs two people), set up microphone, turn on amplifier and check volume, turn on podium light with extension cord to stage receptacle. _Put out pitcher and glass with water.
  • Take flowers out of white container and place flowers in bronze container and place in slot on podium __Make sure there are only about five or six rows and stack extra chairs in rear if necessary.


  • Open Book Table
  • Place a few song books on each row. (Fewer in front rows)
  • Find programs (usually on top of copier in office) and have a volunteer fold them.
  • Put out guest book (next to mail boxes in office) and pen, put date and speakers name at top of page.
  • Put name tags kiosk in lobby.
  • Place plastic holder with blankname tags and pledge envelopes on lobby table. (Extra envelopes behind office chair.
  • Check literature tables – especially PES brochures – find replacements in mailboxes in office. _Place collection plates in rear window-wells.


  • Check bathrooms and supplies. (Some extra supplies in cabinet behind office chair) _
  • If there is a quest speaker, open Leader’s Office for them to prepare. (Leader Office Key on hook in Office closet.)
  • Check outside of building, sweep if needed, pick up trash.
  • Okay, look around.  Is everything in order? Are we ready to welcome guests, and offer a satisfying experience?


  • Greeter does the Welcoming but Ushers should assist greeter if needed with greeting members and visitors and handing them programs.
  • Encourage members to wear name tags.
  • When Presider is ready and Platform is about to start, ask those in Lobby to go inside.
  • Place quiet sign in middle of foyer
  • Close all but one door at Reflection Time and ask latecomers to wait until end of reflection.
  • Sit in back by open door and watch for latecomers and the need for extra chairs, etc.
  • Take collection during service. Together count cash and write amount on an list in envelope in desk and put entire collection in envelope and place in office desk drawer.


  • Following Platform put everything away (microphone and cord, podium, flowers in cardboard vase with water, pitcher and glass, song books, etc.) and return the Auditorium to its original condition – dispose of trash and extra programs, lights out, doors closed.
  • Leave name tag kiosk in Lobby, sign-in binder and Book Table open until after the Dialogue.
  • Set up Weston Room for Dialogue. __Change outside sign to next Sunday’s speaker and retrieve parking cone.

Edited January 2009


Greeters’ Checklist

Your Job: Help Newcomers get to know us.

Sunday Mornings:

Arrive 15 minutes early to welcome Newcomers, ask their names and offer name tags.  Check the program for dates of upcoming events like the Get to Know Us Social or Introduction to Ethical Humanism.  Stay in the Lobby until the Platform begins, to say hello, but let the Ushers do most of the directing.

After the closing song (do not stay for the Postlude) return to the Lobby to encourage Newcomers to join us for coffee.  If a Newcomer decides to leave, ask if he or she has signed the guest book and has a copy of the Newsletter.

Upstairs, help the Newcomer get coffee, tea or lunch.  Talk for awhile, but introduce him or her to Richard and other active members and / or invite to sit down at a table with yourself and others, i.e. “Can I introduce you to some of our members?”

Suggestions of What to Say:

1.         Tell Newcomer your name, ask for their’s (don’t worry if you are not sure if they are here for the first or fifth time – just be friendly).  Ask how they found out about the Society.

2.         Draw them out about themselves.  Get to know them.  “How did you happen to come by today.”

3.         You could tell them:

  • The Philadelphia Ethical Society is part of a 120-year old Ethical Culture Movement.
  • We are a non-theist humanist religious fellowship.
  • We believe that life is an ethical experience.
  • We are committed to a belief in the intrinsic worth of all people.
  • We are a community of searching individuals.

4.         Let them know about our many activities.  Make sure they have a Newsletter.  Tell them about your favorite events, be they classes, socials, platforms or book discussions.

5.         Invite them to the next Get to Know Us Social held the first Wednesdays of alternate months.  Tell them they’ll learn about the Society and Ethical Culture Movement there.  Invite them to the next  Introduction to Ethical Humanism, the next platform and any upcoming social events.

6.         If you don’t know, ask if they have filled out the guest book (including phone number).

7.         Introduce them to Richard and other active members.  Don’t monopolize their time but don’t desert them.

Follow Up:

The Society Administer will send each Newcomer who signs the guest book a letter (signed by Richard) which thanks them for their interest, next month’s newsletter and a PES brochure.  Newcomers are added to the Ethical Views mailing list for three to six months.




Volunteering usually involves working with, or at least around, others. When volunteers are preoccupied with completing a task, then the relationships with those others may well suffer. However, because the emphasis in the ethical culture movement is forming and maintaining our relationships at the center of our lives, volunteering should be seen in the larger context of treating each other well.


Welcoming newcomers and members often is a role that volunteers often play. The section on Welcoming has many good suggestions for the volunteer who is welcoming others to the ethical society. Consider especially the part of that section that is called Building Membership by Dr. Bob Kaufmann.


It would be difficult to think of lay leadership arising without the member’s engagement in the work of the society. This section includes suggestions and workbook activities that can be seen as parallel to, and given actual task experience in, volunteer activities. In fact, volunteers might choose increasingly engaging volunteer activities as a way to develop the lay leadership skills discussed in this section.


One clearly exciting area for volunteering are activities to foster connection among members and outreach to others by way of the Internet–the society’s Web site, e-mail lists, and many other communication opportunities. This section should provide societies with a range of possibilities for organized engagement of members in expressing to others what building an ethical culture means.


Index to this section: