I’m not sure if readers pick up on the fact that most of the things that I write about (and speak about at conferences) are things that I have struggled with, or more often than not, continue to struggle with in my professional life. Sometimes I wish my work still centered around leading games and songs all day and hanging out with middle-school age campers, but unfortunately (sometimes) times change and people do to. With change comes the opportunity to grow and evolve. There have been times when I have been prepared for the changing and evolving and other times when I was having to quickly catch up with the expectations of a new position.
One of the areas that I have been working on for the past few years and finally think I am getting a handle on is board development and volunteer development. I certainly don’t think I have mastered it and I will probably spend the next 20+ years (how long I think I will continue working) perfecting this skill, but at least at this point I have learned some things that might help people who are new at this or are struggling with it at this point in their career.
Here are some tips I recommend for getting the best out of your board development efforts:
- Ask for help – In 2002 I was working for the YMCA in Raleigh, NC and had no responsibilities to recruit board members and at that point had never worked with one in my life, but I knew that if my career progressed as I planned it would come up. I went to a leader in our staff development department and asked her who I should talk to to gain a better understanding of working with a volunteer board. She mentioned Alan Head who was the Executive Director of the NC Bar Association (attorneys/not bartenders). I met with him, asked him questions and forged a friendship. 5 years later he became my board chair of YMCA Camp Kanata. I learned a lot from Alan and was honored to serve with him, but it happened because I was willing to ask for help early on.
- Read – Reading is usually my answer for everything. I spend good bit of time reading books, magazines, blogs, etc. because it is one of the easiest and quickest ways to gain knowledge on a subject. A simple Google search will give you more than enough information to keep you busy for weeks. I like finding things on my own, but I really like it when people recommend books to me.
- Listen – I have heard (and agree with) that when asking someone to give or serve it should not be a tough thing. All we are doing is connecting someones passion with our organizations mission. When there is a connection it is magic! I have gotten better and finding and cultivating board members because I listen to what people are saying (my wife will disagree with the listening part).
- Meaningful Work – I don’t believe there is anything worse than recruiting a volunteer to our organization and not giving them meaningful work. This might be the toughest part of my job is having continuous work that is meaningful for my board members. It has to be more than meeting monthly for lunch and simplistic conversations. If board members aren’t engaged I take it personally to do a better job of connecting with them, listening to them and empowering them with the work of our organization.
- “If not you, who?” - This is the question I have begun to ask of volunteers lately. I sometimes get turned down (I’m persistent though), but when this happens I follow up with “if not you, who?” I want them to give me a name of someone they know who might be a good connection for us. Keeping this thought at the forefront of our volunteers mind is important. I want my board to be dynamic and full of good people and I want to have a good “bench” of people ready to step in to serve. Don’t forget to ask your volunteers to recommend people.
- Profiling – One thing that I have been more intentional about lately is writing a profile of people I want on our board. We serve hundreds of school groups a year at our camps, but we are not represented on our board or any committees with an educator or administrator. We are attempting to grow our alumni base for our camps, but we do not have a college alumni staff member connected to us. We have two large camp properties, but do not have a park planner connected to our board. What gaps do you have on your board? Write a profile of what you want and then go find them.
fill this table intentionally
Volunteer and board cultivation and development is an ongoing process. I believe that over time this type of work will be what keeps me interested and engaged in the work that I do. The ability to share my passion for summer camp work with the community and looking for continued ways to connect peoples passions with our mission is what keeps me energized. Hope these tips will help you in your recruitment efforts.