Building a great nonprofit board is critical to the success of your organization. You can search for potential board members in many places, but don’t overlook your volunteers! Asking volunteers to become board members is the nonprofit version of promoting from within, and it’s a win-win scenario!
Why you should give volunteers a board position
First off, you already know they love your organization. Secondly, it will make them feel valued which can encourage continued volunteering and financial support. But aside from those obvious benefits, what are the other reasons?
- Volunteers are aligned with your mission. The people who show up over and over to serve with you are the ones who really have a passion for the issues you’re working to solve in the community. Odds are they would like to do more to help, but don’t know how. Giving them a seat on your board enables them to create a bigger personal impact by helping with your organization’s strategy. POINT’s free volunteer data management platform can help you identify your top volunteers—they’d be great candidates for board seats.
- They already have relationships with your team. Volunteers interact with several members of your team every time they show up for an event. Plus, they have relationships with other volunteers and your clients, giving them unique insights into your nonprofit that an outsider won’t have. These relationships will make them a great asset on your board when making decisions and exploring future directions for your services.
- They’ve got hands-on experience. Shorten your onboarding timeline by promoting volunteers to board members. They’re already familiar with your operations and processes, and probably have a few ideas on how they can be improved.
- Reduce board member turnover rates. Turnover often happens because of a lack of continued interest or because of a lack of expectations of what being a member entails. While setting expectations is still important, a board member who started as a volunteer likely will want to engage more deeply and stay involved because they personally care about your organization’s success.
Thought-starter: Do you directly serve individuals in your community? Take your equity commitments and turn them into actions by putting a client or two on your board. (For example, if you serve our unhoused neighbors, put an unhoused person on your board. Legit, we mean it.) Who knows better how to create more impact with your nonprofit than the people who use your services? Tap into your community to co-create what people actually want and need from your nonprofit, and give the people you serve a voice in determining how your organization interacts with them.
Setting the stage: How to create great, engaged volunteers
You want really awesome volunteers to convert to board members. But how do you get really great, engaged, awesome volunteers? And how do you know which ones would be a good addition to your board? Here are a few tips:
Create better volunteer engagement with your mission
Your volunteers are already here for the cause, but share more about your specific mission with them. What is your organization’s theory of change? What does it look like for you to reach your most successful outcome? How can you better share stories about your impact and how it affects change in people and your community? Doing those things will create deeper connections between volunteers and your mission.
Strengthen your volunteer relationships
Give your volunteer coordinators some time back in their days by using POINT to streamline your volunteer management. They can use that saved time to invest in strengthening relationships with volunteers—adding notes to individual volunteer profiles about their interests or careers, reaching out with unique opportunities to help your nonprofit in ways that align with their skillset (e.g., graphic design or web development), or even doing something as simple as memorizing volunteer names and faces so they can greet each volunteer personally! Strengthening relationships keeps volunteers coming back, and it gives your coordinators insights into who might be a good candidate for a board seat.
Give volunteers leadership opportunities
Do you have regular volunteers that have been serving in the same capacity for a while? Or do you have a particularly enthusiastic newcomer? Ask them if they would be willing to lead groups and scope out their leadership potential. Volunteers who are good leaders would make great board members. Plus, giving people a sense of responsibility also creates loyalty, which is great to keep volunteers engaged for the long haul.
Encourage current board members to volunteer
Do you want your board to be this ghost-like entity that every volunteer knows about but never sees in action? No! Transparency is key, especially to younger volunteers! Encourage board members to sign up for your volunteer opportunities so they can all get to know each other. Volunteers will get deeper insights into your organization’s goals and feel more connected to your nonprofit. And if there’s a volunteer that a lot of the board members enjoy volunteering with, they could be a great addition.
Identifying board member potential
Once you’ve strengthened your relationships with volunteers, take notes and do some reflecting. Which ones show up on time, every time? Which ones go the extra mile? Which ones are the most competent and need little direction? Those volunteers have potential. Start giving them opportunities to get more involved with your organization. They could volunteer in a more skills-based or professional capacity (e.g., pro-bono services), or take on added responsibilities like picking up supplies needed for an event, or serve on a committee for a particular initiative or fundraiser. Take note of who gladly accepts, and who does a great job. Look for the ones who have a spark, who make everything they’re involved with better.
How to ask volunteers to serve on your board
Ask the volunteers who have proven themselves to be reliable if they would be interested in serving on your board. Explain what it entails, be transparent about the selection process (if there is one), and let them know how much you’ve valued their dedication so far. Give them the chance to think about it—most likely they’ve not served in that capacity before and didn’t know it could be a possibility.
But who should be making the decision about which volunteers are offered a board seat? And who should ask them?
This is where it’s important to get your board involved with your volunteers and staff. The board can’t make a good decision if they don’t know the volunteers, and a volunteer coordinator can’t either if they don’t have a strong relationship with your board to know who would be a good compliment to current members. The decision should be made collaboratively. Invite a couple of representatives from the board, the executives, and the volunteer coordinators to the table. Talk about where your board has strengths and weaknesses, and what traits would be beneficial to add to the mix. Then look for volunteers who have the potential to bring those to the group and decide on a couple who would be good fits.
Once your nonprofit has made a decision, you need to figure out who should be asking. If one of the board or staff members has a strong relationship with the volunteer, it would be great for them to ask. Or you could select a representative from the board or the executive team to reach out, showing that this is a serious offer and that their contribution is noticed.
If they say yes, make sure you have training sessions or resources in place to support them. And if they say no, accept that and make sure they know how valued they are to your organization in any capacity. Keep that relationship strong, and maybe down the line, they’ll change their mind (or maybe not, and that’s okay too!).
Tap into your nonprofit’s biggest asset to strengthen your board
Your organization’s volunteers are invaluable and can make fantastic board members. Volunteer management tools like POINT can help you level up your volunteering program so that you have the tools you need to recruit, engage, and manage your volunteers. Plus, you can save volunteer coordinators hours each week so that they can invest that saved time into strengthening volunteer relationships. With these strategies, you’re well on your way to encouraging volunteers to become board members.
Author: Madison Mikhail Bush
Madison Mikhail Bush is the Founder and CEO of POINT. POINT is a platform to manage volunteer people-power.
Find her at @madisonmikhail or somewhere between Columbus, Ohio and NYC.