Taking the lead

Today the Nonprofiteer got an e-mail from a fellow Obama campaigner requesting that she volunteer to lead service projects in the community.  She agrees with the concept but differs in its execution.

The Obama campaign brought large numbers of people into leadership roles for the first time.  Let’s take advantage of that by asking those people to continue exercising their leadership skills–as Board members of local nonprofits.  This is both more meaningful and longer-term than packing lunches for the local homeless shelter, and contributes to the continued growth of individual skills in the service of the community.

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5 Responses to “Taking the lead”

  1. Jim Simpson Says:

    I’m not sure I read what I read. The problems with most community service “development projects” is finding the people who are willing to “stuff the paper sack” for the homeless.

    Everyone wants to be on a board(!), but how many will leave their own families and friends behind to show up in a marginal part of town to participate in a community project…especially at dinner or lunch time?

    Should those “sack stuffers” be paid positions?

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      My experience has been different: it’s fairly easy to get people to make lunches occasionally, or even once a month, but difficult to find people who month in and month out will untangle a nonprofit’s financial confusion or raise money for its operation. We have room for all different kinds of volunteers; I just think sandwich-makers should come from the ranks of school kids while adults with business skills should exercise those skills in support of making the agency financially secure.

  2. Tony Adams Says:

    I’m not sure I follow the difference in execution between serving on a board of a service organization instead of leading a service project? At least in comparison to packing lunches?

    Is the board affiliation the difference?

    Not that most non-profits (esp small and mid-size or less glamorous ones) don’t need help on the board.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Serving on the Board of a service organization is a long-term commitment; leading a service project is a one-off. It’s the difference between writing an annual fundraising plan for an agency, and planning its annual benefit event. Both are important, but you need people willing to do the long-term unglamorous work and I worry about a volunteerism system that relies on the temporary stimulus of, “Have an idea? Create a project!” That’s the mindset that has people starting their own nonprofits instead of working to make existing ones operate.

      But I don’t discount the efforts of those who lead service projects. I just think we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t say to people, “Have you ever considered Board service?” People often don’t consider it because they think it requires skills or connections that only other people have; if we make clear that it requires nothing more than the energy and commitment they’ve already shown, we could have a full pipeline for nonprofit Boards, and that would be a real improvement.

  3. Tony Adams Says:

    Gotcha. It sounded like you might be advocating an either or approach, instead of both.

    I think service projects can be a great way to lead to board service. And I think often it cuts both ways.

    Just as “People often don’t consider it because they think it requires skills or connections that only other people have”, too many non-profits don’t ask for the same reason, i.e. they don’t see big pockets.

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