Volunteer Engagement 2.0 Author Spotlight: Linda Jacobs Davis, Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL)

Jun 29, 2015 2:45 PM ET

Originally posted on Engaging Volunteers, a VolunteerMatch Blog

VolunteerMatch’s new book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World, features chapters from 35 experts in the field of volunteer engagement. In this series of blog posts, get to know these #35experts and their areas of expertise.

Today’s expert: Linda Jacob Davis, CEO,Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL).

First of all, what is your chapter about?
Board members serve in a critical and unique nonprofit volunteer role. Meet Your New Board is about how to engage prospective board members with an eye toward what is needed now and in the future, going beyond what has been or what is easy.

The chapter looks at the similarities and differences in engaging a volunteer board member compared to a “service volunteer.” Passion for the mission alone is not enough to be an effective board member; individuals must also have a desire to be engaged in governance. Since the majority of us do not come with a degree in nonprofit governance, this chapter suggests ways to recruit and retain board members, and how to engage them as strategic leaders within nonprofit organizations.

Why is this topic important?
Ask any Executive Director and they will tell you that the relationship with the board, especially the board chair, can make or break their ability to lead their organization and deliver impact and change. As written in the chapter, “A disengaged, dispassionate board will never be successful in ensuring the resources for an organization.”

It takes time to build the board composition and harmony: it’s a work in progress. However, it’s easier to retain talent than to constantly be in recruitment mode.  Learning how to choose members wisely, keep them focused on their responsibilities, provide governance training and provide opportunities for assessment are keys to a successful board experience.

Explain your background on this topic. (In other words, what makes you a “volunteer engagement expert?”)
I have spent my career in the nonprofit sector and have years of direct experience.  For the last 30+ years I’ve served in a wide range of roles, many of which have involved close collaboration with board members: Major donor stewardship, fundraising event management, grant writing, public affairs, marketing, advocate, program management, presenter/ trainer, associate director, and executive director.

I have also served on numerous boards – local, statewide and national – and sat in the seat of treasurer, secretary, vice chair and chair. At CVNL, I coach and consult nonprofit executives and their boards on governance protocols, practices and issues, and leadership transition and succession planning.

I am always learning. I owe my knowledge to my years of experience, walking the talk, reading books, attending professional development courses, listening to my peers and of course learning from mistakes, failures and successes.

What did you learn and/ or struggle with when writing your chapter?
It was a struggle to condense such a weighty topic and years of experience into a short chapter. It was great to take the time to think about the critical points of successful board governance and the incredible value our board members provide.

What is the one piece of advice you would give volunteer managers to take with them to the future?
I will share what a mentor told me very early in my career, “Be interested, not interesting.” That was and continues to be the best bit of advice I have ever received. It has shaped who I am as a person, leader, mom and friend.

Another less “warm and fuzzy” mentor pressed me to be bold, courageous, and to take risks: “If you are not pissing someone off, you are not getting your job done.”

To read Linda’s full chapter, Meet Your New Board, order your copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World today.