“How to Make Sure Your Volunteer Role is a Good Fit” (BTO Article)

Feb 5, 2010 | Government News

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By Doreen Pendgracs, Author, “Before You Say Yes …: A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards”* 

 As a businessperson, it’s more than likely you’ve been asked to serve on a volunteer board. It may be a board for an arts organization, your professional association, your church, the school board, or the kids’ hockey team or daycare. And if you haven’t yet been asked, don’t worry, you will!

It seems there are never enough volunteers to go around. It also seems that too often, people agree to take on volunteer roles without knowing what they’re in for, how much time it will take and the full extent of their responsibilities.

The key to being a successful – and effective volunteer – is to ask questions, and not to let up until you are satisfied with the answers. Too often I’ve been told that a volunteer role will “only take a couple of hours per month.” If only that were true! But more often than not, I’ve found that volunteer roles often take much more time and effort than we expect.

So it’s very important to find out whether it is a “hands-on” board on which directors actually do most of the work (with some help from additional volunteers) or whether it is a management style of board that merely overseas activities performed by staff.

It is also wise to question the person whose role you are filling. Have a one-on-one conversation with the individual, so that he or she is not intimated by others who may be present. Try to get a true sense of the pleasures and pitfalls the person may have experienced in filling the role. Does this sound like a good match for your personality and style of doing things?

Will this individual be available to help guide you? If not, will a mentor be assigned to help you in your learning curve?

Before you say yes and commit to the role, ask a few more questions. How often are meetings? Where and when will they be held? Is this timetable and format convenient for you?

Find out if the association or organization has Directors & Officers Insurance for its board members. Don’t accept a board position if it doesn’t. You may be putting your own financial security at risk in case of a claim.

Ask about training for new board members – particularly if the board you will be serving deals with complex matters. Every organization should have a “board manual” for new directors that contains a copy of the constitution and by-laws, copies of minutes from the most recent meetings and other information that will help you get up to speed.

If you have asked the recommended questions and are satisfied with the answers, ask yourself two last questions: Is this the right board for you? Are you passionate about the organization and what it represents? If you are able to answer a resounding yes, then accept the role with full enthusiasm and be the best volunteer you can be. 

How to be the best director you can be:

  • Take the training you are offered and become engaged in it.
  • Do your research and fully understand the organization you will be serving.
  • Respect board confidentiality.
  • Be loyal to the goals of the organization you are serving.
  • Accept criticism and learn from it.
  • Recognize your strengths and your limitations.
  • Participate in board discussions and be fully attentive.
  • Be a good listener. Every director and member of the organization has the right to be heard.
  • Have an open mind, be flexible and learn from others.
  • Be consultative. Do not act unilaterally — unless you are specifically authorized to do so.
  • Take on responsibilities. Don’t always wait to be asked.
  • Be accountable for any responsibilities or tasks you have been designated or volunteered to do.
  • Show gratitude and respect to fellow board members (or staff) who have done a good job on a project or task.
  • Attend board functions that help raise the profile of the board or the organization. It’s good public relations for all concerned.
  • Try and get to know your fellow directors (and the association’s key staff) on at least a semi-personal level. It will help you better understand their comments and positions.
  • Be professional in your every action as a director.
  • Be honest and helpful to your successor(s).
  • Be careful not to burn yourself out. Enthusiasm and effort within reason is best. 
  • Know when to walk away. When the enthusiasm is gone, your ideas are stale, or you seem to be swimming upstream on every issue, it’s probably time to resign, not renew your term or find a replacement.

*About the Author:

Pendracs Book (200 x 340)Doreen Pendgracs is a freelance writer and author based in Matlock, MB.  She is the author of “Before You Say Yes …” a guide to help newer and would-be directors be more effective in their volunteer roles. The book is published by Dundurn Press and available online and in bookstores across the province. Find out more at Doreen’s website at: http://www.wizardofwords.net.

“Before You Say Yes …” will be available in stores March 15th.

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