Are you making decisions for your board members' time?

Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with PARTICIPATING concept letters

Just the other day I was in a conference room with a non-profit executive director and their board president. I was asking questions such as:

  • why did your board decide to go from meeting every month to every other month?
  • why are we having a hard time getting board members to the table to engage in a little planning work?
  • why is it that getting board members to participate is still difficult even though we keep doing things to make it easier?

You get the idea.
Of course, the answers to these questions aren’t easy and they can vary from organization-to-organization. The following are just a few explanations:

  • they are recruiting volunteers with the wrong traits, skills and experiences to serve on their board
  • they aren’t doing a good job with setting expectations during the recruitment process
  • they might not even have a structured recruitment and onboarding/orientation process in place
  • they might not be using board governance best practices in the boardroom, which results in long, boring “report meetings,” and what busy person has time for that?!?!

However, to my surprise, the answer I heard back on most of these questions was, “I know these are busy people and I’m just trying to be respectful of their time. So, I try not to set up too many meetings or ask them to do too many things.
At face value, this sounds very respectful. Right?
But what if you turn this situation around and look at it from a different perspective? What would you see?
When I did this, I saw a person making decisions about other people’s time. And in all seriousness, what right does anyone have to do that?
Maybe I tend to look at the world too simplistically. But doesn’t it make more sense for . . .

  • non-profit staff to wear the hat that involves identifying all of the work and volunteer opportunities necessary to fulfill the organization’s mission and vision?
  • board members and other volunteers to wear the hat that involves saying “YES” or “NO” to which opportunities they wish to participate?

OK, so I can already hear some of my non-profit friends muttering about scarce resources (e.g. only so many volunteers) and the organizational priorities that must be achieved. To this,I simply say a few things:

  1. Perhaps, your planning processes need to do a better job at prioritizing organizational needs (aka not everything is a high priority)
  2. Perhaps, you should choose a different planning model (e.g. alignment model, search conference, etc)
  3. Perhaps, you should use this paradigm shift to recruit more volunteers and align your recruitment efforts with those projects that need more people power

While this thinking might not be the right answer for you, I urge you to put thought into the following question:

“How can you stop making decisions for your volunteers’ time?”

Why? Because it is presumptuous of you to think it is your right to make those decisions in the first place.
Disagree with me? Agree with me? AwesomeSauce! Please scroll down and tell me why using the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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