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Remembering Your Volunteer Leaders

April 26, 2013

volunteerlThis is National Volunteer Week. Even more than usual, we contemplate what in the world we would do without the support of the folks who make our work possible without being paid.

Let’s include our volunteer leaders in these reflections. As the ultimate caretakers of our mission, they are vital to our success.

Tensions can emerge when the right dynamics are not in place between board and staff (or between board members themselves), but miscommunication and a lack of training are often at the heart of discord in these important relationships.

Let’s face it: sometimes we just expect board members to “get it” when we haven’t invested in them the way we could or should.

Four of the most important things we can do to build a good experience for our volunteer leaders:

  1. Talk through board service expectations before you recruit another volunteer leader. Believe me, it saves the potential board member and your organization a tremendous amount of time and angst to be clear from the beginning. If you haven’t done it already, the clarifying exercise of figuring out your individual board member expectations is powerful. (View a sample board contract that you can customize here.)

  2. Make fundraising obligations crystal clear and provide specific direction about how board members can be involved in your development process. Simply expecting board members to know how to help us raise money doesn’t work. During each board meeting, make space for discussion about fundraising and call board members out who are doing a great job. Sharing examples is important: writing thank you notes to event attendees, signing letters to lapsed donors, making donor recognition calls, and arranging coffees with prospects are all ways board members can participate in the process.

  3. Say thank you. Sometimes staff wait for praise from the board. After all, the board is in charge of the organization; they are the ultimate leaders. But if you take the time to send a quick e-mail or a hand-written note thanking your board members for their service, it will feel extra special to them.  Just do it.

  4. Make space for inspiration. If your board meetings are saturated with committee reports, your volunteer leaders will not only have a serious case of the zzzz’s, but they can feel as if their time and talents are wasted. (If they enjoy the endless reports, your organization may not be well-positioned to remain competitive in a world where innovation is more important each day.) Make space in your board agenda for a “big question” or discussion about your strategy, future direction or impact.

All-volunteer organizations: It’s all up to you, board chair. Setting a tone of appreciation and continuing board education for your fellow volunteer leaders will keep them carrying the torch.

We thank the world for volunteers. Indeed, The Giving Partner foundations could not exist without the talented board leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to make our work possible.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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