Does the Rule of Thirds for Volunteer Boards Apply to You?
How many of you love math? I am thrilled that my 9-year-old grandson is a whiz at math in school. I was a co-whiz in my West Virginia elementary school. Each week, I had to battle David Brown for honors in our weekly speed math contest on the chalk board. He and I had the problem noted on the board half solved before the grand "face-off" in the front of the class. My love of numbers fits well with our profession, which is all about numbers!
I have worked with many volunteers through the years. They come in all shapes and sizes. I also have recruited a large quantity of volunteers to provide a variety of needed services for various nonprofits. Unfortunately, the quantity and quality factors were never in sync. The quantity was always much greater. You never know if the quality comes through until after the recruiting process and evaluation over time.
I was with an executive recently for lunch. I have known him for many years. He served on a volunteer committee with me when I was with a previous employer. He asked me to lunch and said he decided to focus on a few new charities for volunteerism going forward, including my organization. He is focused, dedicated, passionate and results-oriented, and will be an excellent volunteer and eventual board member.
While this lunch provided a wonderful end result, we all know these endings are never the same. How often have you secured what you think is the perfect volunteer only to find him or her MIA? I call it the rule of thirds.
The statistics don't lie. In my career, I believe if I secure nine people for volunteer or volunteer board positions, for example, one third of them will be outstanding and exceed expectations, another third will ebb and flow, and the remaining third will be a complete bust. Your goal is to seek 100 percent outstanding performers, which is hard to do and never totally accomplished. But, one must strive to attain the gold standard. Also, be prepared for surprises and disappointment.
I do not believe in recruiting outstanding volunteers from previous organizations for the new organization unless they contact you and have a passion for the new charity. One time, I broke this rule as the volunteer had left the previous charity and told me he was looking for a new volunteer home. I was extremely frustrated that the same volunteer went from very hot to very cold. It was sad to see the transformation take place. I received many excuses for lack of engagement until it was time just to say goodbye. The fact was that that volunteer loved the mission of the first organization and didn't feel connected with the second one.
When recruiting volunteers, I suggest the following 10 points as a start:
- Recruit well, and know what you may get in the capacity of a volunteer.
- Look for passion, dedication in the mission and complete interest in serving.
- Make sure the volunteer has few charities competing for his or her time.
- Constantly test for continued engagement, and provide thoughtful training and orientation.
- Have a written job description and expectations that the volunteer understands and accepts.
- Attempt to know volunteer on a volunteer level and what the volunteer likes to do and what he or she does well.
- Encourage existing volunteers to motivate and engage new volunteers.
- Seek to have each volunteer own his or her volunteer experience and use his or her time wisely.
- Make sure volunteer board members have term limits and volunteers have time limits.
- Constantly recruit, rotate old with new volunteers and keep things fresh.
One of the greatest challenges in our profession is dealing with the concept of volunteerism. We need these individuals to help us promote our various missions. They are the fuel for time, talent and treasure in our organizations. We need an array of volunteers, and the challenge to maintain a strong volunteer base has never been greater. We also need to test volunteers prior to asking them to serve on boards. They should prove themselves on a committee level first before you promote them.
How is your math? Does the rule of thirds apply to you and your situation? If not, congratulations on a job well done. If so, what are you waiting for? It is time to make a paradigm shift.
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.