In the Land of Lost Board Members, I recently joined a group of nominating committee chairs as they bartered, traded and stole board members from one another. I was appalled at the situation and firmly told them that there was a better way to build board membership. Of course, in a land where it is neither dark nor light, nor hot nor cold, my reception matched the environment.
“Listen, girlie, we have been doing our nominations this way for years. Its comfortable, and no surprises.” The man chomped on his cigar. I stood close to the open window.
“He’s right, dearie,” chirped a woman on a wobbly stool, “we trust our friends, and in spite of the confusion –”
“What confusion?” I asked sensing and opportunity to enlighten them
“Well, you know, sometimes forgetting which board we’re serving, confusion with mission and confusion at fund raisers, but,“ she giggled, “it usually works out.”
“Ah, ha. That’s why you have to rethink this method. Board recruitment is a constant process. You nominating people should be trolling the community looking for new recruits. You should have an idea of the talents your board could use. You should be looking for members who bring to your board a diverse membership representing the entire community. You shouldn’t just be looking for retreads.” I was eloquent and polished in my delivery.
“Yeah, right,” snarled a man in the corner. “We have looked, we have asked varieties of groups. We have tried churches, civic clubs, local barber shops, But everyone is too busy, too committed to something else or too tired.”
“In this country studies indicate that over 50% of people volunteer in some capacity in their community. And in midsize and small communities the percentage increases. It is also important to understand that volunteering cuts across economic groups and include the young and the mature.” I tried to be encouraging, “so recruiting good people is challenging.”
“We have the classic conundrum,” pontificated a gentleman lounging against the wall, “Is our community half full or half empty?”
“Professor, button it up. You know we work better when your vocabulary takes a rest.,” growled the cigar smoker.
“What I mean,” the Professor continued,” is that we can think of this as an opportunity. Half of our community is still out there waiting to be tapped.”
“But how do we find them?” moaned the fellow in the corner.
“Maybe those folks not volunteering, don’t really know they’re needed,” I speculated.
“We have looked,” protested a lady with knitting needles, “we’ve had teas, we’ve had booths at the festivals and fairs. We advertise. No recruiting event has been successful.” They all nodded in agreement.
“Maybe they don’t know we are talking to them. Maybe they haven’t realized that volunteer opportunities are what they need in their lives,” the chirping lady replied.
“Great, I feel like we’re out looking for lost hikers and they don’t know they’re lost.” An unlit cigar stabbed at the ceiling. “So how do we convince the unlost to figure out that we are trying to find them?”
“The unlost? I like that term. We want people who will self identify and self select for volunteer opportunities. They just don’t know what an impact it will have on their hearts and souls.”
“There you go again Professor, we are looking for the unlost who don’t know they have a need to be found and don’t know they could volunteer and don’t hear, read or see volunteer opportunities for themselves and don’t know where to start. And they will self select without information.” He took the cigar out of his mouth and challenged the listeners.
“That’s it,” we all cried, “you have a great idea!”
“What did I say?” The cigar danced around his teeth.
“You just laid out a strategy for growing the recruiting pool for potential board members,” I explained. He looked skeptical, but I continued. “You suggested that people don’t realize their talents are needed nor do they know where they are needed. We need to help people find opportunities. Teas and socials aren’t the answer. Inviting people to sample the work or help develop solutions may be the answer I think we just start by suggesting that folks think about joining a United Way panel to review agency requests. Panel work for United Way allows a volunteer to study some great agencies and evaluate their programs. Steve, Pam or Sandy at the United Way office would love to hear from everyone.
“Does this mean the community is half full or half empty?” someone asked.
“It means,” concluded the professor, “we’re optimistic that the best of the people not volunteering, the unlost, will self select into community service.”
September 2007 The Smoke Filled Room-Part II