ZUMIX Grooms Board Members by Engaging Them as Volunteers
Madeleine Steczynski: Weve learned to select the skills that are needed.
May 4, 2012 When Zumix, an East Boston-based nonprofit that empowers children and teens through music education, was completing a move to a new facility and ending a multi-year capital campaign two years ago, it was about to undergo board turnover and realized it needed a more rigorous process for bringing on new members.
I had a realization that several board members would be leaving, as their specific work was completed, said Zumix Co-founder and Executive Director Madeleine Steczynski. Our annual evaluation of the board had revealed a need for members with skills in fundraising and finance, but we didnt want to just turn over the board so quickly and have so many strangers at once.
"We wanted a feeder process to the board, so we could have time to adjust.
The solution, she said, was surprisingly simple: in order to become eligible to serve on the board, those interested must first serve on a volunteer committee.
If theyre a good fit, said Steczynski, then they can be recommended for the board.
This pathway offers multiple benefits, she noted. Community members can participate without the legal and financial responsibilities of serving on a board, and they can learn whether serving on ZUMIXs board would be right for them. At the same time ZUMIX has the opportunity to see committee members skills in action and gets a sense of how their skills could benefit the board and the organization.
It was also the perfect time to invest in the board by growing volunteer fundraising and finance committees. These committees work with each other, with the board, and with the organizations development staff to approve budgets, set goals, and evaluate progress throughout the year.
Recruiting with Clarity about Needs
We recruit for the committees with broad-based outreach, like we would recruit for staff, being very clear about our needs, said Steczynski. We also hold an open house, with current board members present to speak about their work with ZUMIX. Those chosen for a committee serve for at least six months before becoming eligible for nomination to the board.
She said this volunteer-engagement method of board selection has resulted in some people describing the ZUMIX board as being hard to join.
Were not snobby, she said, stressing that the process is about finding a match that benefits both the organization and the individual. But hearing that, I realized that its actually a measure of our growth as an organization. Weve learned to understand and select the skills that are needed.
For other organizations seeking to improve their fundraising capacity through volunteer committees, Steczynski offered the following advice:
1. Fundraising committee members dont have to be board members.
You can bring in young, enthusiastic people with great energy who will roll up their sleeves and be active on your behalf. They get real experience, and you can evaluate them for their skills and potential match with the board.
2. Be clear about goals.
Set clear expectations about fundraising. Dont fool yourself that your fundraising committee is going to raise all of the money your organization needs, if theyre not. You must also invest in development staff and ensure they work with the fundraising and finance committees. Make sure each group understands their role and the role of the other groups. Frequent evaluation keeps everyone on track.
3. Embrace fundraising.
Remember that nonprofit leadership consists of two core responsibilities: providing services toward your mission, and doing the necessary fundraising.