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Be Ambassadors to the Community

By Jan Masaoka
From All Hands on Board: The Board of Directors in an All-Volunteer Organization, National Center for Nonprofit Boards and the Support Center for Nonprofit Management, 1999, pp. 15-16

Board members must serve as ambassadors to their community and must connect to the parent or partner organization if there is one. In an all-volunteer organization, the board must act as the State Department and the public relations firm for the group. The board of a volunteer fire department should make sure the organization has connections and ongoing communication with the sheriff 's office, the police department, the forestry department, the school district, and others. The new president of the Rotary is well advised to have lunch with the presidents of Kiwanis and the Junior League. An all-volunteer group of parents of children with cancer made sure that there was always one board member assigned to staying in touch with the American Cancer Society.

When we think of an organization's assets, the first things that come to mind are money in the bank, furniture, or equipment. But for most AVOS, it's their personal relationships with those from other organizations that are the most important assets. These relationships are sources of power and influence in the community, as well as channels for information and the inspiring knowledge that we're part of a larger community effort.

Many AVOs are all-volunteer chapters of larger, staffed organizations, such as the Japanese American Citizens League; the National Council of Negro Women; Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH); the American Civil Liberties Union; Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); the League of Women Voters; and the California Native Plant Society. Others are alumni associations of colleges and universities or professional associations such as the local chapter of the state Society of CPAs, the Hispanic journalists Association, and the Association of Independent Stained Glass Artists. Board members of such all-volunteer chapters have the additional responsibility of staying in contact with the national or statewide organization. Relations between local all-volunteer chapters and their national, staffed parents are frequently characterized by some tension and even resentment.

Board members must find ways to be responsible to their own communities, as well as to make a contribution to shaping and supporting the larger organization. AVOs that are primarily fund-raising organizations have special relationships with their partner organizations as well. Those on the board of a fund-raising group will want to be assured that the funds raised are used effectively. Some groups send one or two elected representatives to sit on the board of directors of the partner group, while others assign one person to be liaison to the partner group's staff, and one to be liaison with its board.

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