Recently, I attended a committee meeting of a nonprofit because I was interested in getting more involved and helping the organization, but wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to give my passion within the organization and how I wanted to serve.
Although I had to leave the meeting early in order to see a client, I left excited to get more involved. The next morning I received an email that said: “Never Leave a Meeting Early”.
Whoops! That email had to be directed at me.
Unbeknownst to me, I had been elected chair of a specific effort within the organization without being invited to take on this position. I had been “volun-told”.
This is a common occurrence in nonprofits with a devastating result. When a volunteer (key word is volunteer, not employee) is told to do something, they feel obligated to help. Unfortunately, this feeling of obligation can begin to trump the feeling of passion to help the organization. Possibly leading to feelings of shame if they don’t help and then guilt about all the things they don’t or can’t do on behalf of the organization.
According to Donald Miller, feeling joy in your work is a very motivating factor for helping others.
When individuals join a nonprofit board, we ask that they be passionate about the organization as the first reason for joining. Then, we want them to offer their skills and expertise to help the organization. So, we come up with a list of board member roles and responsibilities. Here’s a sample of a Board Member Role and Responsibilities.
The board member agrees to fulfill these responsibilities and joins the board.
As the nonprofiteer, we expect each board member to fulfill every single responsibility in the exact same way at the exact same time. Is this realistic?
However, I know you are saying: Renee, every board member must make a donation and raise money. Even you say it yourself here.
Yes, this is true. But it is going to look different for each board member.
Executive Directors and CEOs of nonprofits tell me: my board doesn’t fundraise.
My response: That is okay.
Only one or two board members will take on the effort of fundraising as their passion and work of the organization. Yes, you want all members to be involved with fundraising – but they will do so at a lesser effort – because they will be fulfilling their passion for the organization in other areas.
Here are my suggestions for effectively engaging volunteers with your organization by making their work joyful.
- Offer opportunities for your board members to get involved with your organization and see what sparks their interest or passion. This will be different for each person – because we are all individuals who do not necessarily want to do the same exact thing. If you took your board to an ice cream shop, they wouldn’t all choose vanilla, would they? It would be a combination of different ice cream flavors served in a bowl or on a cone (regular or waffle?) topped with m&ms or gummy bears or fruit – or all three. Not all of your board members are going to choose to help with fundraising. Board members may choose to help with your marketing materials or coach a program director to improve services or open a door in the community to a business that will partner with the organization.
- Offer opportunities that are (first) a match to your board member’s skill set and (second) will help with fundraising. This might look like helping with your social media to help get the word out about an upcoming fundraising effort or inviting their friends to attend your upcoming fundraising event or telling their story through a video or letter to encourage others to give. Note: these activities help with fundraising, but are not a direct solicitation and may be more appealing and “do-able” for your board members who are not passionate about fundraising.
- Do not shame or guilt your board into fundraising. Have you ever been forced to do something you don’t want to do? We all have because we felt obligated or that it was the right thing to do. And we may do it once. However, if we are asked to do it again the following year, we would probably turn down the invitation. If you want board members to help you year after year, find meaningful ways to engage them with fundraising that match their willingness to serve.
If we start to look at board fundraising as an individualized plan for each board member, we are going to find more success. Because one size really doesn’t fit all.