Self-Led Volunteer Groups

By Susan J. Ellis
From The Secrets of Successful Boards, F. E. Robbins & Sons Press., 1998, pp. 166-8

People Raising: A New Perspective on Volunteer Resources

The usual focus is on volunteers recruited to work within the organization, generally under the supervision of or in collaboration with paid staff. Another model for volunteer involvement is the independently-organized, self-governed volunteer group, organized specifically to benefit your organization. Whether called an auxiliary, friends group, or special event committee, such entities bring a whole new set of board considerations:

Do we want a self-led volunteer group? Why, beyond hoping for increased fund-raising? Is this the best approach to achieving our goals?

Are these to be independently-incorporated bodies, or will they use our organizations tax-exempt number and therefore require this board's oversight?

  • How will such all-volunteer groups relate with the board, with the in-house volunteer department, and with one another?
  • Who is in charge? Who "owns" the funds raised? Who approves name changes, project goals, and other public activities that affect our organization's community relations?
  • Will our staff have any direct responsibility for or authority over any aspect of the volunteer group's work? Conversely, does the group have the right to delegate work to our employees?
  • What reporting and evaluating will be done, and how?
  • Should the president(s) of such groups serve on our board ex officio? If so, are their responsibilities the same as those of any other board member? What is the rationale for this group of volunteers being given governance privileges if direct-service volunteers (also contributors to our organization) do not?

You must balance the wish to allow supporters to be creative and active on your behalf with the obligation to exercise some control. If you already have an existing auxiliary or friends group, it is not too late to articulate the best working relationship. If you wish to explore the option of forming such a group, do so without dollar signs in your eyes. It takes time, effort, and nurturing to build a strong fund-raising corps. And how willing is the board to listen to input, as well as to accept checks?

Finally, you may want to create an advisory body or representational group, such as an alumni council. Be careful not to imply that these volunteers have decision-making authority. In fact, you should avoid calling the group an advisory "board" for this reason. The board of directors needs to clarify roles, lines of authority, and the conditions under which such volunteers will be consulted.

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