I was recently having a discussion with an Executive Director who was reluctant to tell several of her new board members to take on specific roles and responsibilities. In fact, she thought it was best to let them choose what they wanted to do and how they wanted to contribute to the organization. I shared that, in fact, I believe it's critical to take the opposite approach.
Nonprofit leaders need to provide very specific guidance as to where board members can make their most valued contribution. Board members are typically recruited for specific reasons such as their community or financial connections or understanding of an industry. Once on board, it is the Executive Director's job to encourage them to step onto committees and take on tasks that truly leverage their capabilities and connections.
This discussion made me recall a post I did a few months ago "Volunteering For Maximum Impact Part 1"
In it, I stated that one of the most compelling parts of volunteering can be providing your volunteers with opportunities to try on different hats i.e. developing new skills sets or taking on roles that are the opposite of their professional work. In my mind, that aspect of volunteering can be fun, adventurous and one of the best ways to retain great volunteers. Obviously, this is a big contrast from the way I had suggested my nonprofit colleague manage her new board members.
This got me thinking about the fact that there are several very key differences between Volunteers and Board Members and the way we manage and retain them. These are always worth keeping in mind as your nonprofit looks for ideal recruits for both:
Term of Engagement: Volunteers come to us to spend an hour or two, a day, or even complete a project over a series of months. Better yet, sometimes we are fortunate to have a volunteer that gets much more involved with our charity and stays for years. Ultimately, it's our responsibility to find the ideal match between the commitment needed and volunteer time available. But at the end of the day, the engagement is still voluntary. Board service is quite different and specific. It's a best practice to designate terms lengths and limits as well as options for stepping off and on.
Financial Responsibility: While volunteers often become our best donors, that happens due to a growing connection with our organization, passion for our mission and commitment to our vision. I've yet to come across an organization that makes a volunteer's financial contributions mandatory. Conversely, board service often comes with a stated financial commitment. Some are rather loose i.e. contribute to the best of your ability while others are more clearly stated i.e. give or get $10,000. Ultimately, Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to their organizations so a set commitment takes any guess work out of the discussion.
Tasks, Roles and Responsibilities: Nonprofit organizations look for very different contributions from volunteers and board members. Both should be intensely valued but managed very differently. We need volunteers to contribute their time, energy -- and yes, if they're interested, financial resources - toward our misssion. In contrast, board members need to provide a view from above. Moreover, they are recruited to fulfill very specific strategic, operational and financial needs. It's incumbent upon our leadership to have the vision, confidence and clarity to provide the guidance that connects prospective candidates for either role with the best fit.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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