October 17, 2011

The catch-22 of volunteer recruitment

Reaching back a few weeks to a post by Shari Ilsen on the Engaging Volunteers blog, "Why I'm Not Going to Volunteer with Your Nonprofit." She adapts seven reasons people cite for not donating to a nonprofit and equates them to why they also don't volunteer. Great reading for anyone in the business of volunteer recruitment.

One of the reasons stuck out to me the most: "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." From a personal standpoint, this probably isn't the excuse I'd give out loud for declining a given volunteer opportunity, but it's the one I'd be feeling in my gut, most strongly influencing my decision. I'm an introvert, and I don't think I've joined or volunteered for anything in my life without doing so with a friend. That sounds sad to me now that I've typed it out on a screen, but I'm just being honest.

The truth is, though, that there are a lot of introverted people like me in the world, including in your membership or pool of potential volunteers. (The Decision to Volunteer supports this dynamic: "I was asked by another volunteer" was the third-ranked channel through which volunteers first learned about volunteering with an organization, while "I didn't know a current volunteer" was among the top reasons cited by nonvolunteers.) So it's clear that asking your current volunteers to recruit potential new volunteers through word of mouth is a method that must be employed to overcome the "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you" hurdle.

But this presents another problem. Many associations lament that their volunteer leaders aren't diverse, and they struggle to find new potential leaders from beyond the networks of members who already participate. Asking your board to recruit people they know as new volunteers just gets you more people who look, think, and act the same as the leaders you already have.

So there's your catch-22:

  • Potential volunteers feel more comfortable volunteering when they know a current volunteer, but …
  • Potential volunteers who know a current volunteer are probably a lot like your current volunteers.

No one said volunteer recruitment was easy. I don't have a magic solution to offer for this dilemma, but I think the underlying strategy to break free of this problem focuses on fostering new connections. So, rather than asking volunteers to recruit a friend, challenge them each to make a new friend at your next event. Conversely, when you do identify strong potential volunteers, connect them with current volunteers as quickly as you can, so they can no longer say "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." Interested to hear your thoughts on volunteer recruitment. How have you tried to solve this problem?

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February 2, 2009

Defining (or redefining) the profile of your board

Does your association’s bylaws or board policies lay out the desired qualities of effective board members?

At the Project Management Institute (PMI), the board of directors recently approved a “Board Future Profile” to describe the expected characteristics of future board members. A task force of current and former board members, reporting to the PMI Governance Committee, prepared the recommendations on board candidate criteria, which are now included in the PMI Rules of the Board, as follows:

a) “An appreciation of the value of the profession served by PMI.
b) The visionary strategic thinking capability to be able to understand the interests of diverse stakeholders, to assess the impacts of environmental and marketplace trends, and then to translate those interests and impacts into strategy.
c) The ability to operate effectively in global environments.
d) The experience of assisting in transformational change driven by strategic issues in a similarly-sized or larger organization.
e) The willingness and experience to serve others.
f) The experience and appreciation of working in a collaborative, collegial, respectful, and productive way with people having diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.
g) The experience of performing governing duties to meet legal and regulatory requirements inherent in the fiduciary oversight role of a board.
h) The ability to use, in an appropriate manner, a network of contacts for the purpose of serving as an advocate for PMI and the profession.
i) The willingness and ability to be an ambassador for PMI and the profession served by PMI.” *

A complete description of these candidate criteria can be viewed in Section 6.0.3 of the “Rules of the Board” at

While the language of these characteristics may be more thoughtful and comprehensive than most qualifications for board members, I wouldn’t recommend that you simply adopt or adapt them. The source of power of PMI’s nine characteristics derives from at least two important processes:

• The deliberate and thoughtful way in which the entire PMI board of directors engaged in crafting, exploring, revising, and approving these characteristics provided the intellectual capital and buy-in that are essential to this kind of governance initiative.

• The way in which future nominating committees enlist these characteristics to screen board candidates.

The PMI board also clarified that it expects the total composition of the board to be reflective of the diversity existing in the global project management marketplace in respect to gender, culture, geographic location, and stakeholder groups.

In years to come, the governance committee will be tasked with an annual assessment of how well the existing board members possess these characteristics and how well diversity is reflected within the composition of the board, and it may recommend that the board provide additional guidance to the nominationg committee in any year.

Any association that wants its board to consist of leaders who are fully capable of leading the organization into the future could do well to follow the lead of PMI by crafting and adopting a similar set of characteristics that apply to its specific needs.

(*Project Management Institute, PMI® Rules of the Board, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008. Copyright and all rights reserved. Materials from this publication have been reproduced with permission of PMI.)

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January 22, 2009

Two great ideas for your board nominations process

Many volunteers (and members yet to volunteer) have little understanding of what it takes to be a successful association board member. Perhaps you can offer to educate them, and you can promote the opportunity as a chance for anyone—already a volunteer or not—to learn about how to pursue a leadership role at your association.

Example: The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) conducts a “Director Candidates School” every year at its annual convention. The CEO and board members provide information on the organization and the board to members who aspire to serve on the board. NGWA invites all committee, subcommittee, or task force members who are not already serving on a board to consider attending as well as officers of their 48 affiliated state associations.

Often, members who apply for board positions are volunteers with whom you and your board are already very familiar. To avoid playing favorites, it may be wise to initially review the applicants with indentifying info removed.

Example: The Society of Actuaries’ nominating committee—consisting of a past president, past section leaders, and past board members—reviews the initial round of applications submitted by nominees “blind” (i.e.,. with the names of the nominated individuals deleted) to avoid biases. Once the candidate list is narrowed down, a smaller number are invited to participate in an educational webcast about the organization, answer essay questions, and submit a bio with background information for the nominating committee to review.

What other great ideas about nominations do you have?


January 15, 2009

What exactly does a nominating committee do?

The committee that nominates new board members and volunteer leaders for an association may only be composed of a few people, but the work they do can have a very profound influence on the future of an organization.

Indeed, the role of a nominating committee should be one of managing the leadership succession process on behalf of the board, not simply anointing new board members. Here is a sampling of duties that effective nominating committees should be asked to discharge:

- Work with the board to identify the optimal board matrix based on the strengths and needs of the board (including the need for diversity as defined by the organization).
- Identify potential board members.
- Maintain a data base of candidates.
- Screen candidates’ eligibility and assess qualifications for service.
- Prepare a nomination slate.
- Market volunteer opportunities to potential leaders.
- Define leadership development strategies.
- Oversee and monitor leadership development activities.

Does your association’s nominating committee take on these roles? What other roles should a nominating committee fulfill? What’s missing from this list?


January 8, 2009

The board job description

Have you ever applied for a job without seeing a job description first? Would you ever try to hire a staff member without including a job description in the ad for the job opening?

When it comes to nominating board members at associations, however, this is too often the case. Many associations wait until the board orientation process—after new board members have been selected—to explain the role of the board and the responsibilities of its members. This means candidates may have little or no understanding of the expectations of board members, and the nominating committee has no set of guidelines against which to measure candidates’ qualities and characteristics.

The American Association of Museums (AAM) prevents this problem by disseminating a “Position Description for Board Member at Large” (approved and regularly amended by the AAM Board of Directors) during the nomination process to fill vacancies on the board. This four-page document includes a general description of the role of the collective AAM board, the general duties and obligations of individual board members, the overall recruiting goals for board members (including the diversity criteria that will enhance the board’s composition), and the qualifications or indicators of leadership that the nominating committee will use to screen candidates. The complete position description can be downloaded from AAM’s website.

Does your association have a well-publicized board job description?

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Welcome Nancy Axelrod

Please welcome our newest guest blogger to Acronym: Nancy Axelrod. Nancy is the founding president of the National Center for Nonprofit Boards (now known as BoardSource) and an experienced governance consultant focusing on nonprofit board development, leadership transitions, and meeting facilitation.

Nancy contributed an excellent article to the 2009 Associations Now Leadership Issue focused on "Nominations Know-How," and she kindly offered to share some additional thoughts on nominations with Acronym readers this month. I'm looking forward to Nancy's posts, and your comments!