The State of Volunteerism

ACUI relies on a strong volunteer workforce to lead, plan, serve, and contribute to its vision and the execution of that vision. As part of the Association’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, having a demographically representative workforce is also important. Using self-reported member profile data and responses to surveys of volunteers, an analysis of the state of volunteerism in ACUI was recently completed. Successes are shared as well as areas of variation or challenge. These data can be useful to staff and current and potential volunteers in considering who is currently involved in the organization and their experiences. Additionally, ACUI consistently finds that individuals volunteer most often because they are asked through personal outreach; therefore, members can review this information as they consider who might make a valuable contribution to the Association through their service.   

ACUI has several levels of volunteer service. The Leadership Team for the organization is composed of: 

  • Board of Trustees 
  • Regional directors 
  • Education Council 
  • Special appointments:  
  • Annual Conference Program Team chairs  
  • Research coordinator/Research Program Team leader 
  • Education and Research Fund chair 
  • Student Programs Team leader 
  • Volunteer coordinator/Volunteer Development Team leader 
  • Corporate Partnerships Team leader  

Additionally, each of ACUI’s eight regions has a leadership team. Association-level volunteers include program teams, community of practice leaders, and other individuals who serve as part of work groups or in other term-limited roles. Collectively, these and the Association’s Leadership Team make up the organization’s nearly 500 volunteers. 


Aside from institution size and region, data used for the analysis were self-reported. 


Among the 39% of ACUI volunteers who have reported their gender in the past 10 years, most identify as male or female. From 2008–14, ACUI’s gender categories were “woman,” “man,” and “transgender.” In 2015, ACUI adopted the Human Rights Campaign’s gender identity and expression categories of “female,” “male,” “non-
binary,” and “transgender.” From 2008–13 more men than women served in volunteer roles (roughly 54% men compared to 44% women), and from 2014–18 more women than men (51% women compared to 47% men). Compared to the membership, males are currently underrepresented among volunteers by 6.5% and females are overrepresented by 5.2%. The peak percentage of ACUI volunteers identifying as transgender was 3% in 2010. Currently 1.8% of volunteers identify as transgender and 0.4% as non-binary. 

Race and Ethnicity

Approximately 77% of volunteers have reported their race or ethnicity to ACUI. The 2018–19 Board of Trustees is the most racially diverse that group has been in the past 10 years with only 57% identifying as white. Among all volunteers, currently the percentage of white individuals is the smallest in 10 years (74.8%, 7.1% lower than in 2008); however, that percentage is higher than the representation among the general membership (67%). During the past 10 years, a slightly greater percentage of Asian volunteers has been seen at the regional level compared to the Association level (4.1% compared to 3.2%). Since 2008, the percentage of Latinx/Hispanic/Mexican/Chicanx/Spanish origin volunteers at the Association level has nearly doubled (3.4% to 6.7%). A similar pattern is seen among black/African American volunteers at the regional level (7.4% in 2008 compared to 14.1% in 2018). Yet, the total representation of black/African American volunteers has consistently been lower than in the overall membership (currently 12.6% versus 16.5%). Native American representation has been especially low among volunteers and members over 10 years (peaking at 0.2% of volunteers and 0.6% of members respectively). 

Sexual Orientation 

ACUI has not used consistent terminology over the past 10 years for individuals to identify their sexual orientation, introducing “queer” and “questioning” identifiers in 2015. However, data exists for the categories “gay” and “straight” during that decade, and the current response rate for this category of profile data is 61%. Consistently, at the regional and Association level, gay representation among volunteers was greater than representation among the membership, and the percentage of straight volunteers has been smaller than the overall membership. Currently, 10.9% of volunteers identify as gay compared to 7.3% of members. The percentage of volunteers identifying as gay peaked in 2013 with 17.7%, while the lowest representation came in 2017 (10.7%). Currently, 84.7% of volunteers identify as straight compared to 90.4% of members. The percentage of volunteers identifying as straight reached a 10-year low in 2011 with 80.7%, whereas the highest representation came in 2008 at 84.9%. Bisexual representation has consistently been less than 1% at the regional and Association levels.   


In 2014, ACUI went from 15 geographically based regions to eight, which has influenced the number and structure of volunteer opportunities. However, by normalizing data for the current eight regions from 2008 to 2018, other trends emerge. The area now known as Region IV has been consistently underrepresented among Association-level volunteers. Conversely, the area now known as Region III has been consistently overrepresented on the Leadership Team. Region VIII has had a higher percentage of its members volunteering at the regional level throughout the past decade, but currently has the fewest Association-level versus regional-level representation of any region (an 8.4% discrepancy in 2018). In addition to this, Region VIII has experienced a significant decline in the representation of volunteers, dropping from 20.5% in 2008 to 8.3% in 2018. Regions V and VI have seen the most growth in volunteerism in the past decade. 

Institution Size 

Using ACUI’s full-time enrollment categories, the number of volunteers increases as the institution size increases. That is, nearly half of ACUI’s volunteers come from schools with 20,001 or more students (48.8%). However, for the past five years, the percentage of volunteers from small schools (fewer than 2,500 students) has decreased disproportionately to membership (an average of 3.1% of volunteers compared to 5.6% of members from small schools). On the Leadership Team, representation from schools of 5,001–7,500 has been below the member average for the past 10 years, while the representation of individuals from schools of more than 30,000 students has been above the member average. Overall, more large schools are represented among volunteers at the Association level whereas the regional level attracts more volunteers from small schools. 

Job Title 

In examining the job titles of those who have volunteered with ACUI in a formal role more than four times in the past five years (101 individuals; 12.7% of all volunteers), it is perhaps not surprising that director-level titles have the greatest frequency. However, more assistant directors than associate directors are recurrent volunteers, and of non-directors more recurrent volunteers work in student activities/involvement functions than facilities/events. 


Based on birth year corresponding to the time of volunteering, a higher percentage of members volunteer before they are 40; however, the 18–30 range has experienced a decline of 5.5% since 2008. For the past 10 years, Leadership Team volunteers have been disproportionately ages 41–50, with this concentration increasing over time as fewer older volunteers served on the Leadership Team. Although more than a quarter of members are currently older than 50 (26.7%), these individuals comprise only 12% of all volunteers. Those 18–30 are more represented among volunteers at the regional level compared to the Association level (a difference of 19.8% versus about 10% in other age categories). 

Years in Profession 

Most members have been in the profession fewer than 15 years; therefore, it follows that most volunteers are from that population. The exception is the Leadership Team, whose volunteers have usually been in the profession 16–30 years, which correlates with their age. Also aligned with age, ACUI has seen a 9.4% decline in volunteer representation among new professionals (fewer than five years in the field) during the past decade. This group also has 16% more volunteers at the regional level than the Association level. Of the 225 regional volunteers completing this profile category, only three individuals with more than 21 years in the profession volunteered regionally in 2018 compared to 24 people in 2008.  

Highest Education Attained 

In general, ACUI’s volunteers report being more highly educated than its professional members. Overall, the percentage of volunteers with a master’s degree or doctorate is 19.2% higher than that of member professionals. Relatedly, the percentage of volunteers with a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or high school diploma is 18.9% lower than of current member professionals. Additionally, 7.1% more regional volunteers than members concluded their education with a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or high school diploma. Members with higher educational attainment are volunteering more at the Association level than the regional level. The percentage of Association-level volunteers with a master’s degree or doctorate is 9.4% higher than regional-level volunteers.  



On the biennial volunteer survey, volunteers consistently rate highly their experience serving ACUI. They feel empowered to share their ideas, appreciate peer networking and skill gains, and believe they were recognized for their contributions. Average ratings are higher from volunteers in Association-level positions than those in regional positions. The greatest variance in ratings between Association and regional volunteer experiences is in the area of communication (e.g., perceived support from the Central Office, format of meetings, use of communication tools). Volunteers in multiple roles or Association-level roles seem to have stronger working relationships with the Central Office. Additionally, in recent years, standards have been set to more consistently and equitably recognize volunteers for their contributions to the Association regardless of level. 

Barriers to Volunteerism 

In 2007, the ACUI Volunteer Engagement Task Force reported a lack of knowledge among members about how to get involved in the Association. The task force called for creation of volunteer coordinator roles regionally and at the Association level as well as listing descriptions of volunteer roles on the ACUI website. Those recommendations were addressed and further standardized through the common Regional Leadership Team roles established during the 2014 restructuring. Additionally, online job descriptions were updated in 2018 based on more recent feedback that time commitments and expectations were unclear. 

The 2007 task force also expressed the prevalence of a perception that one needs more time and financial resources for travel to volunteer with ACUI. On the 2017 Needs Assessment, members who had not volunteered for ACUI indicated other professional or personal commitments as the most common reason for not doing so. Additional causes included a lack of awareness, financial resources, or qualifications. Less popular barriers were a lack of interest, complicated application process, or not feeling welcomed. 

In a recent survey of members about diversity and inclusion in the Association, 76.5% of respondents said ACUI provides flexible volunteer opportunities. However, 11.6% said that ACUI’s volunteer community does not represent the organization as a whole. Other concerns similar to those in past surveys included the time it takes to volunteer, wanting to volunteer when they knew they’d be able to attend a conference (a requirement for some roles), and wanting to know more about specific roles that would match their skills and interests. 


According to 2017 Needs Assessment data, most members would prefer to volunteer in short-term roles, such as serving on project-based working groups, contributing to educational content, and planning events. More local opportunities lasting less than three months are particularly attractive. However, those roles are limited in their existence and are not centrally tracked. 

From 2016-18, applications for volunteer roles increased for few positions. Regional Conference Program Teams exceeded average application counts in 2018, but many regions struggled to fill teams in 2019. Applications for two of ACUI’s traditionally popular opportunities—the Annual Conference Program Team and the I-LEAD® Facilitation Team—have decreased in the past three years. In fact, less than half the number of prospective I-LEAD® facilitators applied in 2018 as in 2016.  

A few roles have also been steady, neither declining nor increasing in application counts. The Regional Leadership Teams and Regional Director roles have seen little variance. The Education Council has also been stable.   

Counts for other positions have been less consistent. The Board of Trustees ranged from eight candidates in 2016 to 18 in 2017 and 14 last year. The Research Program Team had as few as one application or as many as 10 during the past three years. And logically some application totals have fluctuated based on the number of positions available, such as for program teams and work groups/task forces. An annual average of 350 applications have been received over the past three years. 


The volunteer selection process was significantly revised in 2013. For positions that are not elected (i.e., those aside from the Board of Trustees and regional directors), applicants’ materials are reviewed by selection committees. Those committees include the team leader, a volunteer who formerly served in a role related to the position, someone from the Volunteer Development Team or a regional inclusivity coordinator, and a staff liaison or regional volunteer coordinator to facilitate the process. The selection committee identifies a standard set of questions and interviews all top candidates. They also check references. Finally, the committee makes recommendations for who the Board of Trustees, regional director, or team leader should appoint.  

In their responses to surveys, volunteers consider the application and interview process reasonable. Areas for improvement include condensing the application, ensuring interview questions are specific, and better articulating time commitment expectations.  


Once in their roles, onboarding and training can begin. As far back as 2006, and possibly before, volunteers cited a lack of training or clear structure for some positions. While still among the lowest rated aspects of the volunteer experience, significant improvements have been seen since volunteers were first surveyed. The Association introduced ACUI 101 in 2014 as a consistent training program for all volunteers. Additionally, Regional Leadership Team and Board of Trustees volunteers began participating in position-specific training. On biennial surveys, volunteers have rated these onboarding programs more highly each year. In 2016, some courses were added to focus on Association finances, branding, event management, volunteer selection, and inclusive programming; however, participation has been low, averaging fewer than five attendees. Additionally, educational sessions have been incorporated into the Leadership Team’s July meeting for the past three years. Feedback has been that awareness about training opportunities is inconsistent, and timing of the training is a challenge. In late 2018, a new self-paced ACUI 101 program was introduced, and more training modules within this platform are planned for 2019. Additionally, volunteers at the regional level will pilot use of a feedback tool to better facilitate communication of expectations, as volunteer supervisor feedback continues to be an area for improvement. Training of Regional Conference Planning Teams has been identified as a gap that the regional directors hope to address in the coming year. 


In the next year, ACUI plans to use these data points to further its priorities related to increasing equity and the value of volunteer engagement. Volunteer and staff teams are coming together to discuss how best to improve volunteer recruitment and selection processes, given a need for improvement in some categories of representation and in the quantity of applications received for open positions. Part of this conversation will require learning more about desired volunteer experiences from those who do not hold majority identities. Goals include not only increasing representation but also strengthening retention.  

The data reported here were only recently compiled in a way that made this analysis possible. Therefore, it will be necessary to develop practices that make data gathering, analysis, application, and communication more effective and efficient. This relates to ACUI’s strategic guideposts on leveraging data and volunteer and member engagement. The completion of demographic categories on member profiles is one step members can take in helping the Association make data-informed decisions about its workforce.  

Questions about these efforts can be directed to Justin Rudisille or Elizabeth Beltramini at   


  • 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.

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