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Recruiting and Cultivating Board Members and Volunteers
July 22, 2017
As part of my consulting practice, I am working with a professional leader of a European Jewish community to explore strategies for identifying, engaging and advancing the efforts of volunteers. The community relies on the efforts of over 300 volunteers who play a broad array of roles from welcoming visitors, overseeing the community’s real estate holdings, and serving as the Chevre Kadisha, ensuring the dignity of burial following Jewish traditions. The challenges faced by this professional are ones many of us are aware of; finding quality volunteers, ensuring that they are following-up on their responsibilities and sustaining their involvement. Among the valuable resources I found was “The New Breed” by McKee and McKee.
As I perused the book and online articles, I discovered that many of the recommendations for identifying and engaging volunteers were identical to those recommended for building an organization’s board of directors.
McKee and McKee speak of “first and second dates” in engaging volunteers. The first date provides an opportunity for the prospective volunteer to get to know your agency, your mission, values and current programs. Additionally, it is an opportunity for you to get to know the prospective volunteer; what inspires and motivates her, and what are her passions, skills and experiences. Having done this work of relationship building and shared discovery, when you get together for the second “date”, you are now positioned to engage the volunteer based on her interests and time availability and to find a match between these and the organization’s needs. Further, you are now positioned to set clear expectations for the volunteer. Finally, you have built the foundation of the one-on-one relationship that will ground your work together in the months and years ahead.
McKee and McKee’s guidance speak of the care that goes into engaging new volunteers and, I would add, is even more important in engaging board members.
Given our organizations’ needs for qualified volunteers and board leaders, it is so easy for us to grab onto any “warm body”. But ultimately, the time spent up-front in the “dating” process will both serve your agency and lay the foundations for a mutually productive relationship.
A volunteer or board member who is not suited for the position; who doesn’t have the time or the right skill set, or who isn’t in sync with your organization’s core values or methodologies, will end up being a burden to you and your staff. That individual will, in turn, have a negative experience with your organization and, consequently, rather than being a “booster” for your organization, she may end up being a detractor who may negatively influence others.
The cultivation of volunteers and board members will remind many of the process of cultivating major gifts. In fact, both volunteers and board members will be giving your agency very significant contributions; their time, expertise, experience and support. Take a moment to quantify the value of the time a volunteer or board member provides your organization. If a volunteer commits 100 hours over the course of a year their commitment translates to $15,000 a year or more. Thus, just as you would take the time to carefully cultivate a major financial supporter, learning about them and sharing your passion for your organization, follow the same path in recruiting and cultivating volunteers and board members. The rewards to you and your organization will be enormous.