By Kristen Bruckner
It has been said “volunteers are not paid because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.” The value of citizens volunteering and participating in local government, school organizations, and non-profits cannot be overstated. In a small town such as Lyons, local groups depend on its residents to step up to serve on a variety of boards, commissions and work groups. If you are new to Lyons or to new to serving on boards or volunteer organizations, here’s a look at what to expect. While corporate boards may often include compensation or financial incentive for participation, the work described here is mostly unpaid, but highly rewarding nonetheless.
Why? Why serve on a Volunteer Board? The main reason most people serve on a board is a personal connection to the organization’s work or mission. Claudia Paterno, President of the Lyons Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, volunteers to run this group because she has children in the school and wholeheartedly believes in LES’s mission of supporting a community school environment. She and the rest of the board put in tremendous time and effort behind the scenes ensuring the work of the group is accomplished. The PTO augments what local and state government offer in terms of funding and resources which allows the school to develop such cutting edge programming as its Outdoor Science Leadership Program. Without the PTO’s efforts as well as the contributions of countless parent and community volunteers, this program would not exist.
Another benefit to serving on a board might be to gain experience that would serve in other areas. For example, perhaps someone is interested in starting their own non-profit or increasing exposure to local entrepreneurs or needs relevant experience in social media marketing. A turn in serving in a volunteer-based organization might provide this experience as well as valuable networking and community connections. A co-board member might just prove to be one’s next employer, client, close friend, or mentor.
Who? Who are the best volunteers and what makes a good board member? The number one quality is commitment. A board member who doesn’t show up to meetings, follow through on commitments or is unreliable can be very damaging to the success of a volunteer-based group. If members don’t regularly contribute or are unprepared in work that is promised, it can kill the group’s momentum or morale. This is especially true in organizations who might only meet once a month or once/quarter. It is hard to accomplish goals if tasks are not consistently achieved along the way. A board member also needs to acknowledge the dynamics of working with a group and allow for others to express opinions. When working with diverse volunteers, there is not room for a dictatorship or a “my way or the highway” attitude by any one participant. Collaboration and support are critical and generally led by strong leadership within the board or across the organization.
A volunteer with a particular skill set is valuable but not always necessary. The Town of Lyons has 13 Boards and Commissions. Someone with a background or professional experience such as
Dave Hatchimonji, chair of the Sustainable Futures Commission has a professional knowledge of practices and standards working as Boulder County's EnergySmart program manager, but acknowledges that a passion or just personal interest in the commission’s work can be just as valuable. A volunteer who possesses such key skills as graphic design or social media marketing can offer a service to a group trying to accomplish its goals.
What? How much time is involved or what type of commitment are we talking about? In the case of the Lyons Community Foundation, board members commit to roughly 5-10 hours per month. With an all-volunteer Advisory Board, the mission to raise money to support such a diverse group of community based projects relies on the ‘heavy lifting’ of its board. They are asked to attend monthly board meetings and also serve on some type of committee. Beth Smith, for example is the board Co-Chair along with Jeanne Moore, but also assists in a Community Connectedness committee that supports activities such as public art and music. She helps to arrange events and shows up to be a spokesperson for the important projects LCF funds. Non-profit board members are also often asked to help fund-raise for their organizations. This may include attending events, direct donations or reaching out to their networks for financial support.
When? When is good time to jump in? Really anytime. Some boards have cycles of applications or elections. A good way to understand what a board does or how it operates is to attend a general meeting. Most meetings for the Town of Lyons boards and commissions are open to the public and the schedules are posted on the Town of Lyons website. If you have an interest in its work, check out a meeting. You will not be forced into a commitment. Another great way to get involved is to volunteer to serve on a committee or a short term project. LEAF and the Lyons Food Pantry rely on many volunteers to run its programs. Tanya Daty volunteered to help with school food drive at LES before signing on to be the Chair of the LEAF board. By working on a short term project, citizens may be able to contribute and understand how a group operates and if it’s a good fit. One can provide a volunteer experience while deciding if a deeper commitment feels right.
Why not? People have asked “why do the same 20 people seem to volunteer for everything?” That’s a great question with no easy answers. Yes, many people work full-time, have kids, have an active lifestyle and generally seem to be busier than other people. Yet some people somehow seem to work out a way to step up. Part of the trick is to find an avenue to participate that works for you. If you have a job that would not allow you to attend meetings during the work day, perhaps a board or commission that meets in the evenings is better. There are always opportunities to provide input or work on one’s own terms. A web design consultant, for example might be able to offer expertise or contributions to an organization in need of those skills without attending the “business meetings” of the group.
The Lyons Community Foundation is currently seeking applications for its Advisory Board. “We have been fortunate to have dedicated volunteers fund-raise and serve, building our granting and projects efforts for more than 10 years” says Jeanne Moore, LCF Board co-Chair. The Advisory Board members run such programs as the Scholarship Committee and the Community Granting program. We get to hear the stories of how grants have funded such programs as Meals on Wheels, the LES Garden Program, and the Sandstone Summer Concert series that might not happen without our efforts. It’s very rewarding. It is the Lyon’s Community Foundation’s mission to connect people who care with causes that matter in our community”. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.