“I like to have a result that is achievable within no more than three months. I like to lay out all the info: this is the work we have to get done, this is our plan, this is what’s going to happen. I like to take it another layer deeper and actually estimate the exact amount of time each task should take.”


No matter how passionate and committed you are about your project, it will only go as far as your team wants it to.


Leadership is a key component to success in pretty much any setting, but even more so in non-profits where people often lose the sense of direction, get demotivated, or generally just don’t know how to move forward as a committee or organization. 


We had the pleasure to have Joy Duling in our podcast where she shed some light on what it’s like leading volunteers in nonprofits, trade groups or associations; tactics she uses to motivate volunteers in order to achieve the organization’s missions and goals and how she organizes her teams efficiently. 


First things first: Who is Joy Duling?

Joy Duling is the founder and CEO of the Joy of Membership. Since 2005 Joy has served as a trusted advisor for hundreds of associations, trade groups, and membership based on profits twice winning the unsung hero award from the National Association of Women Business Awards, Central Illinois Chapter. She is a national speaker on topics related to member engagement and organizational growth and was Executive Director of a membership-based nonprofit for nearly a decade which achieved annual revenue of $1M exclusively from membership contributions.  

The Interview 

Amalie: Joy, we’re so glad that you’re here with us today. Can you share with us how to lead and get buy-in from groups or people that aren’t your direct reports, but you need to get them to get things done?

Joy: My clients tend to run associations, trade groups, kind of industry coalitions. And a lot of times they have a small staff, and a lot of work that has to get done. So they’ll set up committees and boards to help them tackle organizational priorities, and those people don’t report to them. So one of the things that I do is help them figure out how to approach the work, how to organize the people, how to make sure that the committees are actually moving forward and getting work done. We’ve all been part of groups where the conversations just go in circles and just feels like you’re not actually accomplishing anything.


Amalie: In organizations where there’s no organizational chart or some sort of leadership, but they do need someone to lead them. What are the skills required? What are some of the tactics or strategies you use when you’re in a situation like that?

Joy: To some extent, the skills are the same when you are dealing with people who report to you and people who don’t. There are leadership skills that translate to both of those situations. You have to be able to motivate people, you have to be able to communicate effectively. Those skills are exactly the same, but there’s a big difference between you leading people who report to you because you’re their boss versus people who report to someone else in the organization or are volunteers in a community project. If you’re in a situation where you’re managing people like that, you don’t have the same leverage. The skills that you bring to that situation have to be more deliberately executed.


Amalie: I believe that you need people’s buy-in. Things won’t get done if you don’t have their complete buy-in to whatever the committee is trying to accomplish. 

Janine: When people don’t necessarily have the accountability, you’re really relying on their integrity and their motivation. 

Joy: Creating a rallying cry for the group’s work is really powerful. So if you can find that common interest that all of the group members have, that’s super powerful. When we initially launched the nonprofit that I led for about 10 years at our very first planning retreat, we had about 75 stakeholders in the room and they represented organizations from across 20 counties and different types of organizations. One of the things that we did when everybody introduced themselves, instead of them saying their name and their job, we actually had each person tell a personal story about the problem that we were trying to solve. We wanted them to just bring something personal to the table. It was such a powerful exercise.


Amalie: Let’s say you were just starting out today with a brand new committee and you had to get them to some result, whatever that might be. What’s the first thing you would do with them?

Joy: I like to point out that committee work is like water: it’s going to expand to fill whatever sort of container you have for it. So as much time as you’re willing to give a project, that’s how much time a group is going to take. So you have to create a smaller container and sometimes that means dividing the workup. The second thing we’ve already talked about is that rallying cry and creating that purpose for the group. The third piece is understanding the work that the group has to get done.

I like to have a result that is achievable within no more than three months. I like to lay out all the info: this is the work we have to get done, this is our plan, this is what’s going to happen. I like to take it another layer deeper and actually estimate the exact amount of time each task should take.


Amalie:  That kind of detail needs to be done for any project just because you have a plan, listing out some tasks doesn’t mean there’s action going to be taken on it. 

Joy: Right. We’re talking about people who don’t report to you. They have other jobs, they have other responsibilities and you have to make sure that the totality of tasks that you’re imagining to happen in week three can actually happen in week three and you may have to spread it out. Doing so really allows you to see how this work is going to get done within the 12 week period or whatever you’ve set for the total project. You can see every week if you’re making progress and it’ll give the committee some momentum.


Amalie: I think it’s really important how you said that you put a timeframe on it. Because for any project that you’re planning, I think you need to have an end goal. If you don’t put a date, then those things on the to-do list just get pushed back because there’s no end date.

Janine: That concept is actually called Parkinson’s law. The work expands to fit the available time. 

Joy: I think the more specific you can be, it makes it easier for people to jump in and feel a sense of accomplishment around it. I think where committees and groups start losing momentum is when nobody really feels a direction to the work, when group members are just unclear how to move it forward. And my clients, the managers running committees, they feel they’re the ones who walk away with all of the to-do lists. The committee doesn’t actually do much work outside of coming together to talk about doing.


Amalie: What if you had a group that had gone stagnant? They’ve been stuck on the same conversation without making much progress. What would you do in that situation?

Joy: Ultimately you want to get to the same place. You want to be able to get them to a place where they’re all working toward an outcome that they are engaged in and committed to. You have to get a sense if there’s a problem with the group. Do the group members feel like there’s a lack of progress? Do they share your sense of that? If they do, your job is going to be a little easier because you can be more comfortable doing a bit more of a shakeup as a leader. In that situation, you can do a “state of the project” meeting where everybody comes together. You talk about what’s been done, what’s currently being done, what needs to be done.


Amalie: What do you use to measure or show progress? 

Joy:  So I prefer to keep it very simple. We create a very simple report that shows the result that’s supposed to happen each week.  There are all sorts of project management tools you can use. Keep it as simple as you can, especially when you’re working with groups that don’t report to you because these are people who may be completely unfamiliar with those tools and you add a whole other layer of complexity when you try to get external people to use your tools. 


Amalie: If it’s too hard they are less likely to do it, right? What do you do about people that aren’t getting something done or are resistant to the project?

Joy: It’s very quickly going to become clear which individuals are outliers. I would leverage the pressure of the group to get things done. So it’s not you forcing the people to get done the tasks, but you can use the group to your advantage. You can tell them something like “okay, it’s clear that this task has been sitting here for the last three weeks and it’s not getting done. Who else from this group can we pair you up with to help move this forward?”


Amalie: How do you recognize people that are going above and beyond?

Joy: You can celebrate people both informally and formally. You can put them in charge of more stuff. You can give them some sort of perk, like a gift card. You can acknowledge them at an organizational banquet, give them a higher level of title in the committee. There are definitely some things that you can do to make it clear that they’ve gone above and beyond.


Amalie: So you are working in some committees, and you work with nonprofits. Do you find that they have systems and processes set up in their business?

Joy: It depends on the size of the organization. Sometimes the larger organizations have more structure and processes in place because when you have more people, you just naturally have to have those sorts of things. But for small associations, small trade groups, small nonprofits, they may be run by a solo executive director and a couple of team members and they just haven’t had the need to get fancy-schmancy tools in place. 


Amalie:  Do you think that they could benefit from some if they had them?

Joy: Absolutely. I think anytime that you can document the processes that your organization needs and you can create processes that are repeatable, that’s going to be to your advantage. It’s gonna save you time. It’s going to make it clearer what people need to do to achieve outcomes. 


Amalie: So before we finish, do you want to tell us a little bit about what you have going on in your business right now?

Joy: On the one hand I do a lot of operational support for associations and trade groups. So I have a team that is experienced in running associations, not executive leadership but doing out all the operational stuff: how to set up membership platforms, how to do communication out to members, member invoicing, everything it takes behind the scenes to run a group like that. And then I personally spend most of my time doing consulting around, member experience design, how to grow organizations, how to problem solve pieces of the organization that aren’t working. So I do that through one-on-one consulting, through running workshops and doing online education programs.


We hope this has been useful for you, let us know in the comments any thoughts you have! 

To listen to the full episode, go here.


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