Volunteers: I Signed Up to Do What?
If you asked your staff members if they could handle multiple tasks at once, many would say no. What they might say is that they need volunteers to assist them with their jobs. Better yet, they need volunteer board members because board members have a higher degree of loyalty, engagement and accountability to the organizations they serve.
Sadly for many volunteer board members, they are unintentionally caught up in a shell game. They signed up believing they would do certain tasks. In reality, various constituencies tied to the organization tried to obtain their services for other things. Many wind up feeling confused and mislead.
For the majority of volunteers, this action is embedded in the culture and history of each organization. The true question is how do you break the cycle that board members are supposed to play a certain role because they have always done it a certain way?
I have worked with many boards and volunteers in my career. How volunteers are recruited, provided with orientation and engaged varies with the organization, but there should not be unintentional shell games.
The key with volunteer board members is to have:
- Clearly written job descriptions
- Clearly defined term limits
- Understanding of give or get or both policies
- Complete knowledge of the organization
- Stated expectations by administration, staff and peers
- Understanding of time parameters for each year
- A sound recruitment, orientation and evaluation process
- Passion for the cause and joy in representing the organization
- Understanding that lack of engagement means a short tenure
- Commitment that the organization is their No. 1 volunteer priority
As a consultant, I was asked to make recommendations regarding several board members' poor performances with one particular organization. One board member told me he was on 38 boards and had no time to work with the organization. Another proudly said he supported another organization because he had passion for its cause. A third said he was given a "bill of goods" when he signed up. He felt he was fooled to join the board and intended to resign.
All three board members should have been given their walking papers. Be clear as to the mission, vision and purpose of the organization. Think of board members not in terms of filling board number quotas according to the bylaws. Rather, strategically think about how you can use these volunteers in the best way possible.
Board volunteers and the organization they serve should always feel like a win-win scenario. When board members' terms expire, you want them to feel joy over their involvement and gladly recommend a replacement.
Never have a board member come up to you or others and say, "I signed up to do what?" Clarity is key to success, and shell games are for casinos. Do not mix the two!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.