Why Are Volunteer Boards So Important to Nonprofit Performance?

Why Are Volunteer Boards So Important to Nonprofit Performance?

Honoring the Nonprofit Board of Directors During National Volunteer Month


By Heyward Watson


April is National Volunteer Month, a month dedicated to recognizing the importance of volunteering. This month we want to particularly honor the significant contributions of nonprofit boards of directors who donate their time and talents to worthy causes.


The National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) states there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States. This number includes public charities, private foundations, and other nonprofit organizations, including chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations, and civic leagues.


It takes volunteers to run these organizations. Not just at the level of delivering services like cleaning up a park or donating food, but even at the very top.


The nonprofit board of directors is made up of volunteers whose responsibility is to provide stewardship and governance to the organization’s cause. They track the big picture, including the nonprofit’s purpose and reach in the community.


The simple math of 8 board members per organization times 1.5 million organizations equals 12 million nonprofit board members. That’s a lot of volunteers and they deserve our recognition!


Most nonprofits were founded to answer a need in society that governments or businesses were not focused on or could not provide a positive solution to a specific issue. The original board members saw the issue and volunteered their efforts to do something about it.


The causes vary and have emerged in almost every facet of American life, such as education, medical care, housing, childcare protection, domestic violence, etc. The simple fact is, that volunteers are helping in every community in the country.


Board members have a specific task, to help their respective organizations carry out their cause to the best of their ability. As the organizations grow from a working board to professional and administrative staff, the day-to-day operation takes on its structure.


Having served as an Executive Director and as a board member, I can tell you that the expectations for what community impact looks like for board members, the Executive Director, and staff can be very different.


Volunteers see impact differently when delivering a service in the community. Boards can get caught up in the minutiae of governance. Executive Directors are seeing it from another point of view in the day-to-day management and administration.


The differing points about community impact occur because the Executive Director, volunteers, and board members have not had a generative conversation about the community impact they envision and how to measure that success.


I believe that board members want to continue to deliver on their cause and are unsure how to meet expectations that have not been set through group discussion and strategic direction development.


As a nonprofit professional, who has worked in and around the sector for more than 35 years, I have seen up-close how Board Chairs Academy can assist volunteer board members individually and as a group to create a common language and strategic direction to deliver its cause.


The Academy invites boards to come together for 21-hours of online instruction in six critical governance leadership areas, including fundraising, recruitment and long-term development.


If you are interested in evolving your board performance while celebrating the unique contributions of volunteer leaders, I encourage you to review the Board Chairs Academy Fact Sheet and sign up for the next Introduction to the Academy in August. Or reach out to me with any questions.


Heyward Watson
Senior Strategist – Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Third Sector Company, Inc.