One Strategy & Six Tactics Designed To Increase Volunteer Recruitment

There’s a bit of buzz going around the nonprofit part of the blogosphere this week about LinkedIn’s new Board Connect, a premium service offered free to nonprofits to help them search for board members. Both Beth Kantor and Katya Andresen have blogged about it.

Let me be clear that neither Beth nor Katya are suggesting that Board Connect is the sole way or even the best way to recruit board members. They are merely pointing out that it’s a new resource. However, I want to make sure that volunteers and staff in nonprofits struggling to build more effective boards (and committees) don’t substitute a resource for a strategy and its tactics.

Recruiting Volunteers Should Be A Year-Round Activity

Many nonprofits get caught up in the day to day tasks of client programs and event management. A small nonprofit theater group may focus for months on producing a Gilbert & Sullivan play, then find that they have only a few weeks to appoint new members to the board to  fill vacancies or replace those rotating off.

Board Connect may well turn out to be an awesome resource to nonprofits. I hope so. But it’s a resource, not a strategy. If you want to improve your recruitment effectiveness while decreasing the time  and resources you devote to it, then you need a coherent year-round strategy. For example:

Recruitment of volunteers, including board members, is a year-round activity and is the responsibility of all volunteers and staff.

Well, that was easy. Now comes the hard part. How are we going to do it. Here are six tactics that will enable us to execute the strategy.

  1. Management will provide updated resources (training in how to recruit, job descriptions, marketing strategies and support, adding to staff performance objectives, etc)
  2. A succession plan will be implemented so that new volunteers can sign up as members of committees, then move up the ladder to positions of increasing responsibility, including the board.  (A succession plan might include term limits for committee chairs, who is the chair-elect, etc.) Senior volunteers and staff will work to develop relationships with new volunteers that will make it easy to identify those who want to move up. This means, on a year round basis, senior volunteers and all staff will continually watch for those volunteers who are promotable and work to find the best opportunities for them.
  3. Senior volunteers and staff will be provided an accurate up to date list of volunteer vacancies by priority which includes information on the negative impacts of leaving those positions unfilled.
  4. Volunteer opportunities and vacancies will be continually highlighted on our social media pages and web site in a customer-centric fashion.
  5. The diversity of the volunteer base will be monitored and strategies will be developed to recruit volunteers from groups not now fairly represented. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, profession, gender, age, geographic location, social connections, etc. See my post on Outside-In Thinking.
  6. Board Connect will be utilized where possible.

In the above strategy, Board Connect is only one of the tactics used. The two critical components are that recruitment is a year-round activity and that it is shared by all, not just a responsibility of a nominating committee begun two months before the annual meeting.

Relying solely on a resource like Board Connect (or a business process like an ad hoc nominating committee) does nothing to address the underlying weaknesses that create committee and board vacancies. A strategy similar to the one above is more likely to result in a stronger volunteer base requiring fewer resources.