Real top down support starts with the board and the strategic plan – and you have a role to play

A Place at the Table - Twenty HatsA question: when it comes to running your volunteer program, how would it feel if the Board of Directors had your back?

That’s what the volunteer director and her coordinators experience at Northern Virginia Family Service, where volunteer engagement is included in the strategic plan.  This organization sends a great message about volunteers and how they are valued for their capacity-building potential.

This message got me thinking: how many other nonprofits are this enlightened about the power of volunteers to advance a program’s mission?

Certainly I know of organizations that don’t acknowledge volunteers at the highest level. I recall one former workplace of mine that relied heavily on volunteers but chose not to mention volunteering in the strategic plan nor include information about the state of volunteerism in the environmental scan.  As if dollars were the only resource that mattered.

It’s easy to feel unrecognized in a situation like this and see only the barriers to creating a fully integrated volunteer program. But it may work better to treat the omission as a leadership opportunity and ask yourself, “The next time my organization is up to revise its strategic plan, how do I ensure myself a place at the table?”

You don’t need to be in upper management to participate in high-level decision-making. Many strategic planning committees include staff representatives or at the very least seek out staff input at the start of the process.

In the meantime, here are three things you can do to pave the way for volunteer inclusion:

  • Get to know the board. Educate them about the impact that volunteers are already making within your organization. Ask to report out at board meetings and bring successful volunteers along with you to share their stories.
  • Know your numbers. Know the trends when it comes to how many volunteers apply to your program, how many get trained, how many become active, and how long they stay. Board members need this kind of information to understand what it takes to sustain a high-quality volunteer program.
  • Remember your power. As mid-level managers, we may not possess as much authority as we might like, but we still have plenty of power to effect change.  Our volunteer management expertise and ability to forge connections are tremendous assets to our organizations.

Advocating for volunteer involvement is not an “extra credit” activity for volunteer engagement pros — it is one of the competencies considered essential for anyone earning their Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA). It’s an indicator that you see the big picture and see yourself as a part of it.

As we sit on the cusp of a new year, make it your resolution to claim a larger role for yourself and your volunteers.

Want to ramp up your advocacy skills?  My January 5 Achieving Buy-In Webinar is a great start.  Email me and save your spot!


Tweet this post! If you agree with my POV, feel free to share this message: Is volunteer engagement a part of your org’s strategic plan? Your place at the table makes it happen,