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Six Ways to Make Your Volunteer Board Members Feel Appreciated

August 13, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Northwest. In her last article, she offered some tips to help you spice up your grant proposals.)

Headshot_allison_shirkA new generation is making its presence felt, and its members are eager to give more than just their hard-earned money. They want to give their time and talent, to get down in the trenches and serve on boards. They want their ideas to be taken seriously, put into action, and reported back on with charts and graphs. Oh, and they want to be appreciated and recognized for their efforts and contributions to your cause or organization.

What's that? You're too busy to let your volunteer board members know their efforts are appreciated? You might want to rethink that. Before you start planning your next volunteer appreciation event, run through this checklist of things you can do to show you care.

Common courtesy. The easiest way to appreciate and recognize volunteer board members costs you nothing. It's giving them a proper greeting when they arrive for a meeting and letting them know how grateful you are for the time and effort they’ve expended to be there. It's small things like starting and ending the meeting on time. It's making sure everyone's voice is heard and that everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussions.

Public recognition. DO take advantage of the little moments when you can express your thanks for a board member's presence in front of his or her colleagues and/or staff. Such moments often are the most conducive to fostering a sense of teamwork and loyalty to the organization. And DON'T let opportunities to publicly thank or recognize a board member slip away. Failure to recognize a board member's efforts can cause him or her to lose interest in the organization and can even create resentment.

Walk the walk. The sincerest form of recognition is to turn your volunteer board members' ideas into action items. Make a running list of ideas generated at your board meetings and make a point of reviewing the list on a regular basis. No matter how many times you say thank you, if board members start to sense their efforts are going for naught, they're likely to lose interest in their assignments and, eventually, your organization.

Continual learning. One thing that really motivates volunteer board members is the opportunity to learn and grow as professionals. Encourage board members to share their knowledge and skills with each other. And, whenever possible, create opportunities for them to network with interesting leaders, decision makers, and people of influence in the community.

Let them shine. Check in with board members on an individual basis before or after meetings to find out whether they would welcome the opportunity to jump into a leadership role. Whether it's chairing a committee or taking ownership for a specific task, it's hard for board members to get recognition if they aren't given opportunities to work on specific projects or assignments.

Keep an eye on the executive committee. When the full board meets, does it seem like all the planning and important discussions have already happened in executive committee? That's a surefire way to undermine the enthusiasm of non-executive committee members and make them feel like their job is to be a rubber stamp. Don't let your executive committee become a too-powerful clique that, intentionally or otherwise, makes non-committee members feel left out.

I’ll leave you with one last thought: You can never over-appreciate your volunteer board members. Appreciation -- real, genuine appreciation -- satisfies one of our most basic human needs and motivates us to stay engaged and give even more. Remember, there's no time like right now to say thank you. Group hug, anyone?

-- Allison Shirk

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