Improving the Experience: Volunteer Development Team Audits Practices, Procedures

Over the last year ACUI’s Board of Trustees worked to establish annual priorities to accompany strategic guideposts that guide the Association’s planning and assessment processes. To that end, ACUI’s Volunteer Development Team used those guideposts and priorities to review existing policies and to formulate new goals for improving the volunteer experience. As those goals were being created the team thought with intentionality about how and why various audits could be performed to improve equity within existing practices and processes.  

Over the last eight months the Volunteer Development Team conducted five audits of volunteer practices to ensure that a variety of volunteer opportunities were being offered and that those opportunities gave individuals fair and equitable chances to participate. Discussions also centered around the volunteer selection process, and once selected, if and how volunteers were being trained in a useful and meaningful way that accommodates personal growth and education.  

The team looked at all practices through the lens of diversity and equity, involved other volunteers outside the team to assist in this review, and looked at expanding the definitions for all volunteer opportunities, including those opportunities that were not currently defined by having a specific term of commitment. This long and thorough process was conducted with intentional thought and conversation to ensure the results would improve the volunteer experience Association-wide. 

In total, five audits were included as part of a year-long goal: 

Audit 1: Expanding the Definition of Volunteer 

Audit 2: Updating Job Descriptions and Incorporating the ACUI Core Competencies 

Audit 3: Reviewing and Updating the Application, Selection and Training Process for Volunteers 

Audit 4: Volunteer Resignation, Change of Status, and Removal Process 

Audit 5: Volunteer Transition Resources

The following is a summary of the process for the first audit, which focused on expanding the definition of what an ACUI volunteer is. Over the course of the next few weeks summaries of each of the five audits will be shared with ACUI’s members, including two more related to volunteer practices.

Audit I
Expanding the Definition of Volunteer

By Jessi Eaton and Kristen Mruk 

ACUI thrives as an association because of the volunteers that lead, plan, serve, contribute, and engage through a variety of avenues throughout the organization. In October of 2019, members of the Volunteer Development Team completed an audit of the definition of how a “volunteer” is defined for the Association.  

To best assess the volunteer experience, it was crucial to make sure the definition was as inclusive of that experience as possible. After an extensive review, the team expanded the definition to include anyone who serves in an informal, short-term, or one-time role. Examples would include in-person events, publication contributors, educational session presenters, host sites for in-person events, and involvement in special projects.  

Previously, these roles were not part of the traditional definition of volunteer because these roles were not “termed” volunteer positions, but the team expanded this to be more inclusive of all types of members who were contributing time toward ACUI. When reviewing available information about these other types of experiences, it was revealed that over 900 additional volunteer contributions had occurred throughout 2019, a commitment far beyond the average of 530 termed volunteer positions that had been filled annually. 

It was important to include these roles into the volunteer definition to acknowledge their contribution to the mission of the association and to the impact community building has among the membership. 

Audit II
Updating Job Descriptions and Incorporating the ACUI Core Competencies
By Erin Morrell 

When the Education Council announced last year it would be releasing an updated set of Core Competencies and associated Skill Sets to the Association in the early fall, the Volunteer Development Team knew it needed to make sure those competencies and skill sets were reflected in the job descriptions of volunteer positions. With volunteer feedback showing that position descriptions were not always consistent with the actual work being done in the volunteer roles, and with significant time having passed since job descriptions had been reviewed, the team determined it was an ideal time for this work to take place.   

The team had already decided to go through and update the roles and what responsibilities were associated with each volunteer position, as well as adding in the time commitments for positions so that applicants were fully informed about the time they would be investing. The team also wanted to be sure that inclusive language was used throughout position descriptions.  

The group that worked on this audit were four members of the Volunteer Development Team — Jeremy Dale, Ali Doerhing, Erin Morrell, and Kerry Spicer – and two members of the Education Council – Jeni Eltink and Morgan Meehan. 

Throughout the process the group first used a form to review each volunteer position to determine if any responsibilities within the description needed to be edited, before assigning the pertinent Core Competencies and skills sets that best matched the description of the volunteer position. Team members completed this independently and then met for a series of weeks to review each set of volunteer positions based on the categories (like lead, plan, or serve) each fell into.  

Once job descriptions were reviewed and Core Competencies and skills sets matched, the group reviewed the complete set of positions to ensure that as many skills and opportunities as possible were being offered through the volunteer positions. 

Having heard consistently from potential and current volunteers that they were looking to expand skills sets, seek out self-improvement opportunities, and develop as both volunteers and professionals, matching job descriptions with Core Competencies and skill sets should provide a well-defined path that allows volunteers to find personal success in their volunteer roles.

Audit III
Reviewing and Updating the Application, Selection, and Training Process
By Susan Canady and Emily Schnier 

As an organization that relies on its volunteers to be successful, it is important to have a strong volunteer application and interview process. Members of the Volunteer Development Team conducted an audit of the application and selection process during the fall of 2019 with the goal of reviewing this process and then looking for ways that improve the process to better promote volunteerism, break down barriers, improve efficiency and consistency, and ensure clear communication channels. The decisions throughout this process were based on volunteer feedback received from surveys and focus groups over several years, and through conversations and feedback from Central Office staff, Regional Leadership Teams, and other members of the Volunteer Development Team. Results of this audit included:

Creation of New Application and Interview Processes

The creation of new application and interview processes were based on which category a position falls within. The following categories were used to group volunteer positions and were based on the focus of the work: Association Leading, Regional Leading, Association Planning, Regional Planning, Serving, and Contributing.

Application Timelines Changed 

The volunteer application timelines have been updated to fall closer to regional conferences and the annual meeting to create more opportunities to promote vacant positions and encourage more members to apply for positions. The new application deadlines are in April, July, October, and December. Some positions, especially those within the contributing category, will have open ended application deadlines.  

Moving forward members should expect that volunteer positions that require more complex work and decision making, along with those that have travel requirements, will have longer appointment periods and more extensive application and interview processes. Positions that require less work for shorter periods of time, and with no travel requirements, will have less extensive application and interview processes.  

Volunteer Application Form Updated  

The actual volunteer application form has been updated to function similarly to a traditional application one would find for any college or university, in the hope that it will make the process easier and allow individuals to apply for multiple positions at one time using the same form. In an effort to help ensure that all applicants have a better opportunity to get involved the updated form will now offer an opportunity for members to indicate if they would be interested in being considered for other positions if not selected for the one they are applying for. 

A review was also conducted on the purpose of the institutional support form, language in the form was updated, and specific positions that should continue to require the institutional support form during the application process were also identified. Some positions will now only require applicants to officially acknowledge that they have discussed their ACUI volunteer position and its requirements with their supervisor and have the necessary support from their institution, while other positions will not require an institutional support form or any other type of support acknowledgement. Since having institutional support remains important, a “talking points” document was developed as a tool to enable volunteers to have conversations with their supervisors about the value of their involvement and investment in ACUI. 

Interviewer Outline Update 

The outline used by interviewers and committee liaisons during application and interview processes has been updated, and interview processes will also vary slightly based on the complexity of the volunteer position. Positions that require more complex work will have more extensive interview processes, including a reference check. The reference check for some positions will be optional at the discretion of the committee lead, and for others not necessary at all. 

The new application and updated interview processes debuted in April 2020. During this application process 101 applications were received, 14 members applied for more than one position, 47 applicants indicated an interest in being considered for other positions, and 68 applicants received and accepted offers for volunteer positions. 

The team recognizes that minor changes may still need to be considered as the updated application and interview processes continue to be used throughout the year, which is common with the implementation of procedural changes. Still, the current changes were designed to encourage more members to consider applying for volunteer positions, make it easier for them to apply, and have more members selected for volunteer positions.  

Audit IV
Volunteer Resignation, Change of Status, and Removal Process
By Jeremy Dale 

ACUI hopes every volunteer has an enriching, vibrant experience that compliments their work and other priorities, yet the Association also realizes that situations can arise where it is unavoidable that unanticipated vacancies may occur. Each vacancy has a unique set of circumstances, and so each will be handled case-by-case, assuming the best intentions of all parties involved. 

This audit reviewed the volunteer resignation, change of status, and removal processes to ensure that the process was fair to all volunteers. After an extensive review, the team determined that aspects of volunteer resignations, including the listed steps and processes for selecting or not selecting a new volunteer, were in good order. The review included looking at the steps for selecting a regional director or regional director-elect.  

In addition, the audit found steps for volunteer removal, including reasons for removal, the appeal process, and membership standards for review committees were appropriate. 

The audit did reveal some need for some changes to the volunteer change of status, particularly considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the current job market. Recommendations included a two-week stay, in addition to 90 days for folks moving from one institution to another, to allow for more transition time. In addition, several recommendations for individuals subject to layoffs or furloughs that allow for a longer period to work out the best options, depending on the volunteer position, were discussed. Process recommendations in other audits such as which positions include institutional support led to recommendations for keeping volunteers in select positions.

The key questions around how these situations would be handled were affirmed through the audit. Those questions were: 

  • What is best for the Association? 
  • What is best for the volunteer? 
  • Is the volunteer still able and interested in fulfilling their duties? 
  • If applicable, what is best for the region?

These procedures seemed fair, and although there may be a variety of reasons someone needs to leave a volunteer position, the process was determined to be well thought out. Overall, the Volunteer Development Team included this conversation as a part of the audits to ensure that the process is fair and equitable as it relates to resignations, removals, and status changes. 

Audit V
Volunteer Transition Resources 
By Shanna Kinzel and Kristen Mruk 

This audit examined the ways in which volunteers could share feedback regarding their experience, with the goal being to benefit both the volunteer and the Association. An intake form was developed to collect the incoming volunteer’s motivations, goals, leadership and work styles, and expectations. The second component of the process takes place at the halfway point of a volunteer’s term and offers the volunteer an opportunity to reflect on their experiences, provide feedback on their understanding of their role, express successes and challenges, update goals, and offer feedback on the level of support and availability of tools necessary to achieve their goals. The final part of the process is an opportunity to reflect and provide feedback at the conclusion of the volunteer’s term. At this stage, volunteers are asked to identify what they enjoyed most about their experience, describe any challenges they faced, express feelings of value to the team and Association, as well as offer ways in which the experience can be improved for future volunteers.  

During this development process it was important to determine how data would be collected and by whom. It was determined that data collection would be initiated and managed by members of the Volunteer Development Team through online forms, and that once collected, data related to goals would be shared directly with the volunteer team lead. All other data collected would be synthesized and shared without any identifying information. More generally, data will be used to find trends, including strengths and opportunities for improvement, and to understand the overall volunteer experience of our Association members. It is our goal to use this data to provide meaningful and beneficial volunteer experiences. 

By Erin Morrell The Volunteer Development Team worked diligently over 15 months to select the appropriate volunteer practices to audit, and how and when to audit them. Practices were carefully reviewed by the team, and other volunteers were also engaged at times to receive feedback and assistance with gathering information. This was done to ensure transparency and fairness were maintained throughout the process. 

The overall purpose of the audits was to update procedures, ensure equity and inclusion, and to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all ACUI volunteers. One part of volunteering that stood out to the team was the exclusion of volunteers who were not serving in “termed” positions, with respect to recognition as a volunteer. By expanding that definition of a volunteer to include non-termed volunteers, the number of members involved in roles tripled, from just over 300 volunteers to over 900. Recognizing that ACUI has so many members volunteering and contributing in so many ways, volunteering should not be narrowly defined or “put into a box,” alienating some people. This means there are more opportunities for giving back to the ACUI community and the Association, no matter what the role might be or how long the period of service is.

In completing these five audits, members of the Volunteer Development Team believe the purpose and process has been a success, and that expectations have been exceeded with respect to meeting the goal of enhancing the experiences of ACUI volunteers. 

If you have any questions about volunteering with ACUI or how we conducted these audits, please feel free to reach out to members of the team. 


Erin Morrell, Albertus Magnus College (Volunteer Development Team Coordinator)
Phillip Booker, Northwestern University
Susan Canady, University of Maryland
Jeremy Dale, University of North Carolina–Charlotte
Ali Doehring, University of Akron
Jessi Eaton, Buffalo State College (Immediate Past Member)
Krista Harrell, University of South Alabama
Kaitlyn Howarth, William Paterson University
Shanna Kinzel, University of Nevada–Las Vegas
Kyle McAlear, University of Tennessee
Kristen Mruk, Buffalo State College
Kristen Rollins, University of Colorado
Emily Schnier, University of North Carolina–Charlotte
Kerry Spicer, Daemen College
Cara White, University of Delaware
Jake Dawes, ACUI (Central Office Liaison)


  • Elizabeth Beltramini

    Elizabeth Beltramini served as ACUI's director of content curation and chief diversity officer. She worked at ACUI for more than 20 years before leaving in 2022 to pursue new challenges. Upon her departure, Beltramini received ACUI's Honorary Membership and Presidential Award for Distinguished Services.