How to attract more volunteer subject matter experts to your learning program

Let’s face it, your association’s learning program can always benefit from more subject matter experts (SMEs) creating course content. SMEs have highly specialized knowledge within their industry and can help your association by contributing to webinars or continuing education training.  

SMEs save your staff time and readily offer a wealth of industry information, accelerating your learning program goals and generating association revenue. If you want to attract more SMEs to volunteer within your ​association, try out these simple tips: 

Survey your members 
Jumpstart the process by surveying your members to get a sense of their background and industry knowledge. As you build up your SME base, you’ll also want to match volunteers with the perfect opportunity to maximize volunteer engagement and satisfaction.  

Here’s how to leverage the survey results:

1. Understand your SME’s background. In your survey you’ll want to address basic demographic data and request volunteers’ availability and scheduling. You might also consider asking about additional skills, interests, publications, or motivations to volunteer. Understand that SMEs are limited on time, so make your survey quick to complete. 

TECH TIP: Use Nimble AMS to access the Salesforce AppExchange and add a survey tool to configure your Nimble AMS experience. Browse from over 5,000 apps and select the best survey solution for your association, all with the power of the Salesforce AppExchange.  

2. Create SME member profiles. Once you’ve received your survey results you can comb through the data and determine which members would serve as viable SMEs. Create member profiles that outline all crucial information including: 

  • Interest to volunteer as a SME
  • Education background and current employment information
  • Volunteer availability and schedule
  • Volunteer interests and motivation
  • Publications or written content
  • Social media presence

Consider having association staff review this information before adding it to your association management software (AMS) database. Sometimes SMEs might forget to mention a publication that could serve as a helpful resource for your learning program.

TECH TIP: Keep your association records organized with Nimble AMS 360° member accounts. Use Nimble Query to quickly review your SME data and display results in easy-to understand formats.   

3. Connect the dots. After you have your survey results and a better sense of the SMEs at your association, you’ll want to consider how to get them involved. Before you reach out to a new SME volunteer, it’s wise to think about what content your learning program needs and how to best utilize the volunteer’s expertise.  

Ensuring you pick the right SME for the webinar or CAE workshop will maximize volunteer engagement, increasing the likelihood they continue helping your association. It also guarantees quality content for your association.  

Recruit and engage volunteers 
After your members have completed the survey, and staff has processed the results, you’ll want to move fast to recruit SMEs. Send out targeted emails to qualified volunteers who displayed interest in contributing to your learning program. Offer thanks for their time and explain how you want to follow up to onboard SMEs. 

Depending on the timeframe, set up a member booth at your association annual conference to meet your SMEs in person and discuss volunteer roles, expectations, and when they can begin. Or consider inviting volunteers to your association office or meet with them virtually to do the same.  

Then follow these steps to engage your SME base: 

1.  Provide training and orientation. To further engage your SME volunteers, you’ll want to train them about your association to help them understand how they fit in. If your association already has a volunteer program and a volunteer orientation manual, consider updating the existing program document to include specific SME information. Tailor the document to include role specific information and expectations on how they’ll contribute to webinars or the continuing education​ program. 

If it’s your first-time training volunteers, or if your orientation needs a redesign, you’ll want to consider the following options: 

  • Will you conduct the session in person or virtually? In person orientation allows for immediate volunteer engagement, yet virtual offers flexibility your busy SMEs will likely need to accommodate their schedules. 
  • Provide relevant information in your volunteer manual. In your orientation manual, consider including your association mission statement and goals, directory of staff and existing volunteers, list of Board of Directors and other important committees, volunteer expectations and roles, reimbursement policy, and termination policy. 
  • Make your orientation session memorable. To hook your SMEs from the beginning, make your content engaging by using a slide deck, gamification elements, group activities, and discussion periods in your training.  

TECH TIP: Streamline the training process by utilizing the online learning management system myTrailhead. Create a SME orientation module with content like videos, graphs, and gamification elements to provide general information on your association and precise details on their volunteer role.  

2. Create a volunteer perk program. Become a thought-leader in your industry by offering SMEs professional and personal benefits when they volunteer. Consider offering discounts on association membership, pay SMEs for their time and reimburse travel costs, and offer continuing education credit when they develop content. Let qualified volunteers speak at webinars or conference sessions and promote their companies at association events, if relevant to your missions and goals. 

3. Foster relationships within your SMES group. To boost volunteer engagement, provide a platform for SMEs to connect outside of work hours. An online community is the perfect place for likeminded individuals to connect and discuss industry information or relevant volunteer experience. Your association may already have a virtual member community — if so, consider creating a new channel or subgroup for SMEs to increase volunteer engagement.  

When designing your new SME subgroup or virtual community consider the following:

  • Select a community manager. Find a staff member to monitor member activity and ensure that group rules are followed. Within the SME community, select a standout member who can manage discussions.
  • Engage with volunteers. Have your community manager create a schedule of content to get group discussion going. Ensure they mix up content to include pictures, gifs, and videos to keep things fresh.
  • Connect new SMEs and veterans. As you continue to build your SME base, try to pair new volunteers with experienced to offer mentorship opportunities. Within your virtual community encourage the discussion of volunteer experiences and the exchange of ideas for success in content creation for your association’s learning program.  

TECH TIP: Implement Nimble Communities to virtually connect and engage your SMEs. Use the online community to support all your association members and take Nimble AMS to the next level. 


Learn more about how to attract volunteer SMEs

If you’re ready to attract more SMEs to create content for webinars and continuing education trainings, begin surveying your members today. After you receive the results, you’ll be ready to enlist SMEs to accelerate your learning program goals and boost your association revenue. Discover more tips on how to engage qualified volunteers by reading the guide, How to Recruit More Volunteers at Your Association.​


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