Why I Don't Believe in Boards Consisting of Volunteers

Currently, several people I know hold unpaid board positions in non-profits. Those organisations are tradionally run with slim budgets which suffice for the basic needs of the organisation. Often money is collected and spent for conferences, travel or project grants. But the budget is rarely spent for elected board members, which makes it very hard to fairly evaluate the performance of board members.

A common opinion is that those organisations do not want to encourage “professional politicians” that will try to get reelected because of the money.

But effectively no-one may critize the work of those volunteering board members: Someone did a bad job? Please don’t comment, because you don’t know how much time this member was able to spend. There weren’t any new initiatives? Well, you don’t know how busy they were!

And this makes me a bit uncomfortable: We’re part of NGOs or non-profits to support a cause, we hold elections for the best candidates, vote for someone and then some people get special titles. And if we think they did a good job, we’re going to re-elect them and reward them with the same responsibility and some more work.

This way of working excludes basically anyone with a full-time job. If you’re already working forty hour weeks and maybe have a commute of an hour per day? Well, it’s going to be hard to keep up. It could even result in more strain in boards: If you have individual board members which are able to work on board-related matters during work-time, you’ll make it harder for volunteers to keep up. And if you survive you may suffer burnout at the end of your term. This skews the representation as well: There is an overproportional number of self-employed europeans in boards.

In order to open up, I believe that organisations need to create plans to compensate for a minimum amount of working hours: It won’t be feasible to pay people full-time salaries, but they should get the opportinuty to get at least one paid weekday at median national salary.

Volunteers can still do projects, but a board position which has a constant stream of tasks? This is not a project, that’s a job!

Also, we should not drive away productive volunteers from their projects and convert them into policy makers, but we need to create a creative, resourceful environment for those who want to make plans reality. Otherwise our organisations will stagnate.

I think that organisations should strive to have enough budget to be able to compensate their administrators. I also believe that those organisations will be able to achieve more thus reaching more supporters, which again will make it easier to pay the boards. The creation of politicians can be limited by other means, e.g. the introduction of term limits.