From Volunteer To Board Member

on in Fundraising

Janet’s been a reading tutor in Sunrise Community Center’s Book Buddies program for a few years now. She recently did a terrific job organizing a fundraiser to raise some extra cash for the program. She makes her own donation to Book Buddies each year, and seems pretty reliable and involved.

Let’s ask her onto the Sunrise Community Center’s board!

Well, yes, but…

There’s a long journey from program volunteer to organizational board member, and Janet’s board orientation – and training through the whole first year – will need to help her to make that leap. 

Three of the key differences are:

Helpmate vs. Responsible Party: Volunteers usually come in to help with a defined task, and when it’s done, their obligation is over. Board members, on the other hand, carry ongoing accountability for the organization’s present – and future. Volunteers act under the supervision of staff, while board members carry the weight of the organization on their shoulders. Big difference!

Tasks vs. Functions: Volunteers often perform discrete actions – reading to kids, running the Sunday rummage sale; whereas the board member’s domain is more complex organizational functions like financial performance or external relations. There are more parts to keep track of in a board member’s portfolio, and, therefore, more pre-meeting work than just showing up.

Program vs. Organization: The old “three blind men and an elephant” aphorism – each one understands an elephant to be only what they can feel themselves – applies to a volunteer’s view of the organization. Volunteers see the pieces they’re involved with most clearly, and that perspective colors their organizational view. They may not even know the other pieces of the organization, like Sunrise Community Center’s senior advocacy, and therefore they come onto the board thinking their job is to become stewards of the program they were first involved with, not the entire organization.

This becomes especially lopsided in the case of organizations that carry out direct service as well as behind-the-scenes advocacy – one is much easier to experience firsthand and therefore to comprehend its importance to the agency’s mission. Using board meetings to educate the whole board as to how the pieces fit together is critical to helping volunteers take on the full board member mantle.

It’s not that volunteers can’t make the shift from helpers to board members – they certainly can. But they have to be coached, through the onboarding process, to broaden their perspective.

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