We’d already been toying around with the idea of writing a post on soliciting and handling content from your members, when SNAP beat us to it. So first, we recommend you check out Gregory Fine’s tips on handling volunteer content on the SNAP website.
I’ll add these thoughts, based on Hammock’s years of working with association publications. Consider these ideas as you manage your publication and your volunteers. Every association is different, so you’ll need to create a process that works for you.
- Peer review. Professional association publications may need to peer-review all content. Certainly you’ll want a rigorous fact-checking process on all submitted content. However the process works at your publication, make sure contributors understand the process and the details — if you can explain exactly how articles are approved and proofed on the front end, you’ll have fewer questions and complaints after the fact.
- Submission guidelines. Even if your publication doesn’t need a rigorous peer-review process, publish submission guidelines. Explain the file formats you accept. Do you want to see a summary before the article is submitted? Do you have different requirements for freelance writers than you do for your association members? How long should articles be? What style guide do you use? What’s the publication calendar?
Make the guidelines clear, and back them up with research. Your regular reader studies will tell you about the topics that matter to your members, and that knowledge makes it easy to explain when you need to reject an article.
- Communicate. Put a member of your staff in charge of member submissions and solicitations. Make sure this person understands how you define the gray area between member satisfaction and publication integrity. (It’s different for every association.) Know how to say no gracefully.
- Soothe ruffled feathers. Occasionally you’ll receive a poorly written article wrapped around a great idea. When the only choice is to re-write the article, handle it carefully. Can you give a double byline on the article, and give the original author the chance to review it before it runs? If there’s something concrete missing — say, there’s no expert interview, or the article is too short — that makes a convincing explanation for additional work by another writer, without insulting your volunteer.