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They are volunteers, too!

Look here for infomation and the latest techniques to develop your board or committee. The purpose is to help those who work or serve on nonprofit boards of directors or committees.
~July 2001~
  • What's in a Name?

In my career, I have seen all kinds of names given to groups of volunteers involved in a nonprofit. Sometimes the names are confusing, not just to the outside world, but to those involved. So the following is my effort to help clarify some of the confusion and make better use of volunteer time and talents.


Often in a new organization or an organization with little staff, the board is referred to as a "working board" because it also participates in the administrative work. I find it helpful for such "working boards" to separate "working" and "governing" in their minds so that board meetings can focus on mission, vision, planning and policy rather than the mailing list or other administrative details.

Standing committees should be kept to a minimum number; should be meaningful to the organization; and each should have a job description. Have you ever had the experience of being asked to serve on a standing committee that interested you and then find it never meets? Or have you ever gone to regular committee meetings that had no purpose? What a way to turn off a willing volunteer! Far better than pro-forma, meaningless standing committees are:

These are more acceptable to people today who want volunteer opportunities with a purpose and which have a beginning and an end.

Executive Committees are usually composed of the officers of the board and the committee chairs. If they meet regularly and decide all the board's issues before the meeting, that would be undemocratic and make the board feel like a rubber stamp. However, if they use discretion and only meet when there is an emergency and there is no time to call a board meeting or everyone is on vacation and unreachable, they are an important option.

Usually it is hoped they will continue to donate money to the organization. The word "board" is a stretch, and this can be perceived by all involved as only a marketing ploy. These leaders might, instead, be asked to serve on a Leadership Committee (see below) and, where true, included on a list of past presidents that can enhance the letterhead.

They should be people with particular expertise and representation that are needed. Make sure they know that their recommendations are not binding. It's important not to call them an "advisory board" because the word "board" might connote governance. Also, make sure people who are asked to serve on an advisory committee are truly being sought for their advice. Too often, it is just a ruse to include someone whose monetary, not intellectual, contribution is sought. When the assignment is genuine, it can result in both.

The people appointed are "leaders" in specific areas in the community and will be asked to involve the people who respect them in specific initiatives (fund raising campaigns, marketing, collaborations, etc.).


So, what's the point? We can't waste the time or talents of our volunteers. Make sure the title given to a group is specific and that there is a job description that accompanies it. It is unfair to ask people to do one thing when we really want something else from them. Make it clear what the expectations are and, when people commit to the task, they will do a better job of fulfilling those expectations.

~ Coming in August: Ways participants can impede or enhance progress at meetings ~

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

Send your comments and questions to Jeannebrad@aol.com

Copyright 2001 by Nancy Macduff.

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