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Posted on December 10th, 2020 in Community & Organizational Planning

~by Steve Yoder, Community Development Regional Educator, Purdue Extension

Purdue Extension recently surveyed over 350 board, council, and committee members throughout the state to better respond to their training needs. These volunteers lead Extension-affiliated organizations such as county extension boards, 4-H councils, and Master Gardener boards. One of the survey questions asked respondents to identify which training topics would help them serve more effectively in their roles. “Recruitment of new members” was their top answer.

I’m not surprised by this. As an instructor for Extension’s Community Leadership Program over the past several years, I facilitate a session entitled “Serving on Nonprofit Boards.” During dozens of conversations, with hundreds of leaders throughout the state, board member recruitment is consistently mentioned as a challenge for many communities.

Often, boards worry that there aren’t enough people in the community willing to commit to this type of role. As a result, participants in my session admit that out of desperation they have resorted to phrases like “Don’t worry—you really won’t have to do much,” or “Don’t worry, we really only meet a few times a year” to make the invitation seem less daunting and more appealing.

Rookie mistake. What may seem like an appeal to someone with a busy schedule can instead have the opposite effect. Busy people don’t want their time wasted, and statements like these may show that an organization doesn’t really value their input.

If you find yourself in the role of recruiting a potential board member, instead of minimizing the organization’s expectations, clearly share the job description and responsibilities. Ask the potential recruit to share what assets they can bring to the organization—let them know that you are ready and willing to use their time and talents effectively.

While recruiting prospective members, it’s also important to understand what motivates individuals to serve on boards and committees. A study by the Georgia Center for Nonprofits discovered these are the top reasons why people join boards:

  • To serve the organization and contribute to its success
  • To be helpful to others
  • To contribute to society
  • To share expertise and professional skills
  • As an opportunity for personal growth

Letting prospective members know that these opportunities exist for them in your organization can improve your chances of recruitment success, and can improve your chances of having a more engaged and committed volunteer.