The composition of the board of directors is one of the continuing challenges faced by the incumbent professional and lay leadership of non-profit organizations. This is especially true when the top leadership is composed of very committed people who have continually given of their time and financial support to maintain the services provided by the agency. They ponder how they are going to insure the continuity of leadership and the involvement that provides for newcomers who will also be motivated to assume responsibility.
The process begins with people who are either interested in the mission of the organization and have been inquisitive about the services provided or those who have expressed an interest through their donating funds to a campaign for a specific purpose or general support. Once someone has made some contact with either the staff or with volunteers of the agency this is the perfect time to reach out to engage them in some activities and/or committee meetings. Often an invitation to join a meeting and participate in a discussion is the first step in opening the door for a person to become an active participant.
By joining a committee the new member has the opportunity to connect with colleagues on a social level as well as to begin an informal educational process of learning how the non-profit organization functions. Some people enjoy the governance process and participating in policy discussions while others gravitate to committees that deal with programming and the services offered to clients. A number of active volunteers prefer to spend their time working on social events whose purpose is to raise funds and increase support for the agency.
In assuming a variety of tasks and becoming involved donors who aspire to become lay leaders have the opportunity to increase their leadership skills and their ability to inspire others to be active and support the agency. Of course there are people who are “naturals” and they are able to excite others. Their enthusiasm for the organization’s activities is contagious, and many are thankful for the chance to learn about the variety of roles lay leaders play during their tenure. The useful techniques involved in chairing a meeting, for example, can be very helpful in motivating others to accept more responsibility. Thus, committee members can share in completing the tasks and do not need to rely on only one person.
Once emerging leaders decide to devote time to the organization they can begin a process of learning about the various committees and selecting where they would like to serve and what responsibilities they would like to assume. A skillful professional should reach out to assist the new people and involve veteran leaders in sharing their knowledge and expertise with them. As the newcomers become more involved they solidify their commitment and hopefully volunteer more time and have a greater impact on the non-profit. As time goes by they become the veterans and work on bringing in a new generation of active volunteer leaders.
The more active the non-profit agency is in reaching out to new leadership and in framing the leadership development program the greater the chance of having a constant flow of new, committed, involved, and supportive lay leaders to work with the professional staff in strengthening the organization. When the organization has the courage to initiate a plan for developing leadership it will be guaranteeing its own future.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W. is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a private consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.