The week of April 15–21 has been designated as National Volunteer Appreciation Week for 2012. During these seven days, the nation celebrates the dedicated volunteers who contribute their time, labor and enthusiasm to organizations — generally nonprofit enterprises — dedicated to community service.
When we pay homage to these community-minded individuals and families, we generally focus on the folks who are most immediately visible: The people who step forward to feed the hungry, to plant trees, to serve as museum docents, etc.
But all too often, we neglect to celebrate the individuals who offer their brain power and management skills to our service organizations. I’m talking about that essential group of volunteers who are the backbone of every nonprofit: the board of directors. And it’s high time we gave them their due.
Nonprofit board members develop and oversee the infrastructure of organizations. These volunteers guide the execution of mission, brand and community relationships. They bring management talent and business savvy to the table, including skills at governing the financial well-being and operational strategies of the enterprise. They assess needs for front-line volunteers and often recruit them, too.
And, just as importantly, they generally serve as the most visible representatives of the nonprofit enterprise in its community and stakeholder relationships, not the least of which involve real-and-present interaction with funding sources and individual donors.
There can be no doubt that serving as a volunteer board member is a high honor and a distinctive privilege. It’s also a demanding and strategically vital responsibility. So let’s trumpet the indispensible contributions of these too-often unheralded individuals; and at the same time, let’s take pains as nonprofit administrators to ensure that they have the tools and training to perform at their best for us. Board-level volunteers should expect to receive comprehensive training about the mission and operations of our organizations and the roles and responsibilities of its volunteers at all levels.
It’s essential to plug these high-value volunteers into the life of your organization as thoroughly (and efficiently) as possible. Remember, as nonprofit leaders, we’re looking to them for informed insight on strategic planning, budgets and financial reporting.
We also need guidance on human resource policies, annual operational planning and communication strategies, to name a few common board-level contributions. Make your board volunteers feel appreciated and valuable, because they’re your pipeline to community awareness — and to widespread esteem for your social enterprise’s work and its contributions.
So, as we celebrate volunteerism during this special week, let’s certainly tip our hats to the dedicated frontline volunteers who carry out the direct work of our organizations, the selfless folks who staff our front desks; move boxes; answer phones, drive for us; and wield hammers, shovels and keyboards in our behalf.
Still, let’s not neglect the board members who sacrifice so much of their personal and family time for us, and lend their essential skills to the causes we cherish.