Nothing is more deflating than to hear a member of the board say, “You don’t understand, I’m just a volunteer.”
Volunteers are afforded opportunities to make a lasting impact. Through their passion and ingenuity, they can affect standards of excellence, quality of life, and the success of people, businesses, and communities.
Senator John McCain described the importance of volunteering, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”
To achieve results in an association it takes a team. The board sets a vision and govern; committees work to advance the vision. If any of the volunteer positions are not accountable for their commitments, the team fails.
There are processes for volunteer selection. Most organizations offer training in leadership development. Some volunteers rise through the ranks of committee service.
Others are vetted by the nominating committee to serve on the board. Still others might “throw their hat in the ring” because they want the opportunity to contribute.
Thus, to hear, “I’m a volunteer don’t count on me,” is flabbergasting. The position was accepted, and the individual took a seat at the table. By accepting a seat, they deprive another leader from the opportunity.
Mark E. Dougherty, CEO at the Daytona Beach Area Association of REALTORS® explains, “It’s always better to know ahead of time that you can’t depend on a volunteer than discover it after it’s too late.”
Serving as Trustees
Board members may not realize they become trustees upon installation. A trustee is a member of a board given control or powers to govern with fiduciary obligations to protect and serve. It should not be taken lightly.
While they cannot be compensated, they have responsibilities prescribed by law and organization’s governing documents.
Tools for Success
The association wants to facilitate a positive volunteer experience. Provide leaders what they need to fulfill their roles:
Nominations – Be honest about expectations. Advise how much is expected in time, talent and in-kind contributions are expected.
Orientation – Brief the board about their roles and responsibilities. Bring in professionals to answer their questions, such as the CPA or lawyer.
Documents – Give them access to what they need. Beyond bylaws and policies, they will need to understand the budget and strategic plan.
Meetings – When a meeting is called, directors are expected to attend. Don’t waste their time by convening when issues could have been managed in other ways.
Principles – Identify the values most respected on the board, for example transparency, accountability, strategy, and integrity. Ask new directors to adhere to the guiding principles.
Celebrate – Make the volunteer experience fun by recognizing achievements and providing encouragement.
“One of the most important aspects of engaging volunteers is celebration. Recognition, acknowledgement, and reward keeps them coming back and attracts others to join in. It doesn’t have to be huge. For example, we sent an association branded mask to all volunteers with a letter of gratitude” explained Willa Fuller, executive director at the Florida Nurses Association.
Their thousands of examples of volunteers who have changed the world through causes and standards of excellence. They never said, “you can’t count on me.”
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committee individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”