Dani Robbins

I’m a Volunteer

In Non Profit Boards on May 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm
I’m co-presenting a workshop this summer called the 10 Dysfunctions of a Board.  As you might imagine, one of the top ten is what I have begun to think of as the “I’m a Volunteer” syndrome. 
Perhaps you’ve had some version of this conversation with a member of your board.  It sounds like this:  “Dani, I don’t have time for this; I’m a volunteer!”  And they are, but they are also a board member who agreed to do the work of the board.  Now, agree may be a fuzzy verb to use because it’s possible they didn’t agree at all.  It’s possible, all they were told is “we only need an hour a month of your time.”  If that’s the case (and it often is) shame on whoever told them that.  Boards represent the community as the stewards of an organization.  It is very difficult to steward anything well in one hour a month. 
You will get the Board you build.
Now, this blog is not intended to knock the millions of dedicated and committed volunteers across this city and the country that serve their local non profits with distinction.  I applaud and am grateful for you! Thank you for your service to our community!
This blog post is not intended to knock anyone.  I aspire to lay out a path of development, so that organizations can have the right people in leadership seats. 
How do you do that?  The best way I know to do that is to frontload it.  Frontload is my word of the year.  It means to be clear about things up front, so there is no confusion.
Frontloading Board prospect appointments look like this:   “Thank you for your interest in serving on the Board of Directors.  We are delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you.  Our Board meets on the 1st Tuesday of the month at 8:30 am.  Are you available at that time?  We anticipate Board service will take approximately 5 hours per month, (1.5 hours at the board meeting, 1.5 hours at a committee meeting, 2 hours working with the committee or the CEO to accomplish the work for the committee) but that could go up significantly should there be something of consequence to discuss or address.  Board members are expected to attend 75% of Board meetings, serve on at least one committee, attend agency events, act as an ambassador in the community, introduce us to your circle of influence, give a “significant to you” financial gift, and help us to secure an additional gifts from your circle of influence and, as appropriate, your company.  Is this something to which you can commit?”
If they say yes, Great!  Though we’re still not finished.  Their candidacy still needs to be vetted by the Board Development committee and if they are recommended, nominated and approved, they also need to be oriented.  I like to orient board members after their election yet before their first meeting.  That way, they can still opt out once they understand the full scope of the expectations and the role of the Board. 
After they have been orientated, Board members, and the Boards they serve, should be evaluated annually.  That can be as simple as taking the Board expectations and turning it into a 1-5 self rating form, or as complicated as tracking all gifts, training, participation and meeting attendance and having the Board Development or Executive Committee evaluate each member individually. 
The important thing is that you are intentional about your needs and clear about your expectations.  If you are, people will rise to the occasion, or defer because they can’t or choose not to.   Both will work toward our goal of building strong Boards that understand their role, and work collectively to serve the agency and the community.
As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
  1. Thank you for your post. Having been a Board President of an organization without staff I have personally made the mistake of bringing people in without sufficient clarity around expectations. It wasted my time and theirs. We are much clearer as a group about how we recruit.


  2. […] I have just finished playing only the most recent version of the game “Dani, I don’t have time for this.” For those of you to whom this game may be new, please read the post I’m a Volunteer. […]


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