If you’ve ever volunteered on a non-profit board, you’ve likely seen the destructive results of directors’ unconscious and unchallenged expectations. They’re often what prompt board members to behave in irrational ways. They may dismiss opposing viewpoints or new ideas out-of-hand, resist efforts to gather quantitative data about an organization’s activities or target market, or reject policies or procedures that might clarify board and staff roles. They may even sabotage the efforts of staff, suppliers or other volunteers in service of their unspoken expectations. In most cases, they won't even realize that they're doing this and that their behavior is doing both the organization and the people it serves a grave disservice.
When the role for which you’re volunteering is to provide leadership, you owe it to yourself and others to do this in a conscious way. This is essential if your goal is to act in the best interests of the organization as a whole and the population it serves, even if these interests don’t in any way dovetail with your own. Self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-management and a willingness to engage in honest and ongoing self-reflection are traits that characterize virtually all board members who make meaningful contributions to the advancement of their organizations. They don't expect a pay-off for the time and energy they spend volunteering. They understand that they're there to give, not to get. They have the courage to be honest with themsleves when they aren't operating from this higher plane. In short, they're willing to let the challenge of giving transform them in ways that transcend money and power.
Destructive motivators for serving on a volunteer board
Generally speaking, if you’re serving on a volunteer board for any of the following reasons, you are likely to be dissatisfied with your volunteer experience:
-Advance your career
-Gain resume experience
-Expand your circle of acquaintances to include more individuals in positions of power
-Leave your mark on an organization, industry or sector
-Get credit for your ideas
-Exercise leadership in ways you can’t in your professional career or personal life
-Increase your influence in the community
-Influence the direction of an organization or industry
-Influence the direction of public policy concerning an industry or sector
-Influence public perceptions of an industry, sector or organization
But aren’t these the main reasons why most people volunteer? Yes, unfortunately it is, but the real question is why so many people have made the assumption that it is acceptable to expect precious donor and member dollars to be used to facilitate the personal or professional agendas of individual volunteers. If any of the above factors are driving your decision to serve on a board or your actions as a board member—either consciously or unconsciously—you will be diminishing the organization from your first day at the boardroom table. Please, do the organization and the people it serves a favor and stay home.
Constructive motivators for serving on a volunteer board
If you come to serve on a volunteer board as a result of the following motivators, congratulations, you are exactly the kind of person the non-profit, association and community sectors need more of:
-You have been deeply moved by a societal challenge that has not yet been fully addressed and you’re willing to learn all that you can about it, so that you can be of use in finding solutions.
-You have nothing left to prove personally or professionally, only a heartfelt desire to give so that you leave the world a better place.
-You have resources that you wish to commit to improving society or helping people, even if it’s only in one small way.
-You delight in learning from and collaborating with those whose strengths, skills and life experiences differ significantly from your own.
-It gives you pleasure to see others succeed in ways you couldn’t ever have done yourself.
The bottome line? The best directors aren’t always the best educated, most experienced or most results-driven. In fact, great boards need process-oriented individuals as much as they do results-driven ones. Sincerity, humility, integrity and faith in people are often better predictors of effectiveness, longevity and satisfaction in board volunteers. A commitment to organizational sustainability and long-term growth is essential, as are patience, perseverance and the ability to cope with and to accept complexity. Most of all, volunteer board members need to have the willingness and self-awareness to move beyond traditional power-based and transactional ways of interacting with others as that is what true philanthropy is all about.
For workshops on this subject and self-development exercises you can share with your team, please contact The Association Expert at 1-877-685-4288.