There is an old expression that says, “You need to dance with the person who brought you to the prom.” It essentially means you need to work with the person who got you where you’re at today in spite of the circumstances. When I think of this in terms of volunteer management (e.g. your board members and fundraising volunteers), it means you need to get the job done with those who you recruited.
The implication of this interpretation is that your organization is only as effective as those who you recruited to do the work that needs to be accomplished (e.g. raising the necessary funds, governing the organization, etc). So, you need to be very careful at the beginning of any recruitment process and pay special attention during the identification and recruitment process to the traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that an effective volunteer will need for the organization to be successful in whatever it is trying to accomplish.
This begs the question . . . what is the difference between traits, characteristics, skills and experiences?
- A trait is something someone inherits or is born with
- A characteristic (e.g. quality) is something that describes someone
- A skill is something that someone has learned
- An experience is something someone has experienced
When I think of traits I’ve seen effective non-profit board members exhibit, I think of things such as:
- Collaborative / Team-oriented
Characteristics of effective board members in my opinion include someone who is:
- Mission-focused and passionate about what you do
- Eager to participate and ask questions
- A life-long learner
- Willing to contribute their time, talent and financial resources to your organization
- Socially engaged in the community with a large circle of friends and influence
When I think about skill sets, there are are many different ones that need to be present around your boardroom table, which is why diversity is so important. In other words, you won’t find people who possess ALL of the skills you need. The following are some of the skills you need to make sure find their way into your boardroom:
- Accounting & financial management
- Marketing & promotion
- Sales, resource development, fundraising
- Insurance & risk management
- Facility management
- Assessment and evaluation
- Human resources
- Organizational development
Experience is a tricky consideration because you should be looking for individuals who have had successful experiences not just any experience. When I was in the business of identifying board volunteers, I looked for people who had successfully:
- Served on other boards
- Participated in fundraising activities
- Worked well with other people in team environments
- Managed other people
- Thrived in situations with deadlines and urgency
- Managed their time
- Been entrepreneurial and grown their own business
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it often where non-profit volunteers look at their social networks and asked others to get involved based on the likelihood of getting a YES regardless of whether that person possessed many of the traits, characteristics, skills and experiences necessary for success.
This is usually a recipe for disaster because “you need to dance with the person who brought you.” Essentially, if you recruit the people lacking what you need to help govern your organization or raise money to operationalize your mission, it is next to impossible to make quick wholesale changes, which likely locks you into an undesirable outcome.
How does your organization integrate the aforementioned traits, characteristics, skills and experiences into a prospect identification, evaluation and recruitment process? What specific tools have you used that you found helpful? Are their any specific traits, characteristics, skills and experiences that I missed that you would add to the list?
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC