Include Volunteer Professionals on Your Board of Directors

board of directors

Do you have any volunteer professionals on your board of directors?

I saw a question on LinkedIn the other day by Tracey O’Neill, Certified Volunteer Administrator, regarding why the boards of volunteer engaging organizations don’t recruit for volunteer professionals. It really got me thinking.

Volunteers make up by far the largest portion of most organizations’ workforce. They are also usually the ones who have the greatest impact on the mission. You would think that having a volunteer engagement professional on the board would be a priority.

Yet it’s not. In fact, it’s rare indeed that a board includes someone who understands volunteer engagement. And that person was usually brought on because of other skills. I know; that’s how I ended up on the boards I serve!

Why would that be?

The most likely reason is a simple lack of awareness.

While most boards of directors are aware that volunteers are valuable, few understand that there is a specific field of study around engaging them. Fewer still are aware that there are credentialed professionals in that field that they could recruit.

Even if they are aware of the profession, many boards of directors don’t see it as valuable.

A board, focused on fiscal responsibility and high level governance, may not fully appreciate how properly supporting and leveraging the skills of volunteers contributes to the success of the organization. Or they may not realize how challenging it is to engage them effectively. Many people still see volunteer engagement as an entry-level role, rather than the high-level leadership position that it is.

Yet the benefits of having a volunteer specialist on a board of directors are huge! Here are the top three:

  1. Improved organizational outcomes.

Volunteer professionals can help the board design policies and processes that strengthen the volunteer program. And the volunteer program, as mentioned before, impacts the mission more than anything else.

  1. Better board engagement.

Board members are volunteers themselves. Thus, having someone on your board who understands how to support, encourage and motivate volunteers can lead to improved recruitment, retention and attendance rates on the board. And that can only lead to good things for everyone!

  1. Organizational sustainability.

Most organizations around the world are struggling with higher demand and fewer volunteers. Having a volunteer professional on your board of directors can improve recruitment and retention of volunteers throughout the organization. By helping to shift the board’s focus toward the volunteer program, they can improve the sustainability of the entire organization.

This is all stuff you probably already know. What may not be so obvious is what to do about it.

Start with changing your board of directors’ perception.

When you talk with directors or trustees, use words about yourself, your role in the organization, and the profession as a whole that highlight the value. Refer to yourself as a leader. Associate leading volunteers with managing human resources. Talk about engaging volunteers as an accredited profession. Refer to people in similar roles in other organizations as colleagues. Mention conferences or associations that focus on the profession. If you see and refer to yourself as a valuable professional, those around you will start seeing you in that light – and that includes the board.

Advocate for your program.

As all leaders do, stand up for your program. Ask to speak with the board of directors about the volunteer program’s needs, and use the opportunity to highlight its benefits. Just as managers fight to get funding or budget space for their departments, you need to do the same for yours. Hmmm, maybe referring to the “volunteer department” rather than “volunteer program” will emphasize its value! Either way, by presenting to the board you and your professional colleagues will start being seen as leaders. As key drivers of the organization rather than just minor cog wheels.

Get on a board of directors.

Even though your board may not (currently!) specifically recruit for volunteer professionals, most boards are under strength and would be very welcoming to anyone willing to serve. Obviously, because of conflict of interest issues, you won’t be able to serve on the board of the organization you work for. You can, however, serve on another one that matches your values and your interests. In fact, consider buddying up. Apply to serve on the board of directors of a colleague’s organization, and have them apply to serve on yours.

Until we have a seat at the board table – and make our voices heard at that table – volunteer engagement professionals, and the impact of the volunteers themselves, will continue to be undervalued.

Take your seat at the table. Let me know if you need help.

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