In today’s episode of Creating Community for Good, we’ll learn from Ryan Oliver how he assembled his team and how to re-enliven a dormant advisory board.

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The “Sticky Power” of Meaningful Volunteer Relationships

“We benefit from a genuine sense of connection and care for each other that transcends the awkward formalities and increases effectiveness.” Click To Tweet

When Ryan Oliver first stepped into the role of Regional Executive Director of the Bay Area and Los Angeles for BUILD, the organization was undergoing a national reorganization. At the time, I was a fundraising strategy and operations consultant for BUILD, and had the task of supporting Ryan’s onboarding and a regional advisory board development. His charge was to activate volunteer leadership from people genuinely driven by the mission. That body of representatives would hold the primary responsibility of advising growth initiatives, communications strategies, program expansion — and of course — fundraising. In today’s episode of Creating Community for Good, we’ll learn how Ryan assembled his team, the learnings he gathered during the process, and the principles behind creating an organization that values its members and acknowledges their unique skills and needs, while staying true to the cause.

How did this Regional Executive Director build his advisory board from scratch?

The goal was to unify 10-15 advocates, strategists, fundraisers, and influencers to serve as volunteer leadership. Step one: Ryan asked current — yet dormant — board members to re-engage or find a champion to replace their seats. Step two: the team built a list of skill sets needed from diverse backgrounds. Critical characteristics included aligning affinity for the mission and ability to give time, talent and treasure. Of course, they needed to be in our network’s network to ensure accessibility

Ryan wanted to create what BUILD endearingly calls a “Chosen Family.” People who would come together in a meaningful way to impact change while also enjoying social bonds. Flexibility and curiosity were key. In order to achieve and maintain a sense of connection and care, he values the personal needs and motivations of board members and acknowledges their ideas and expressions. People need to be treated well, respected and heard. Ryan regularly asks, ‘what do you need to feel this is a meaningful engagement?’ and ‘how can our team facilitate that for you?’. He understood early on that his role as the leader was to serve the board and the staff at BUILD. And that mentality has since been reciprocated ten-fold. It’s a win-win.

Boards must serve the mission of the organization, not the other way around. 

By putting the cause at the center and setting expectations right away, board members understood the boundaries to work within. He set the tone and the stage for future dynamics and relationships. He gave board members opportunities to think big, to feel valued and be bold. If the strategies vered from the mission or guiding priorities defined by the mutually agreed upon “decision tree,” it became easier for all to see misalignments and rework towards the idea. 

How to manage the board you have for growth and value the skillset of the individual?

Create trust and leave room for people to talk. There’s probably nothing more valuable for a board member or volunteer than the feeling of being able to add intellectual power in addition to the money. Money is easy to give, but when volunteers see change effected based on their thoughts or actions, they are fueled in a deeply meaningful way. 

By investing time and care into the relationships both one on one and as a team it becomes easier to maximize unique contributions of leadership. The “Sticky Power” of human bonds connect the people to the mission and the team, resulting in long-lasting and thoughtful partnership. Regular meetings and timely feedback are also necessary to give folks a chance to network, share ideas, and simply be human. 

Listen to the full episode and learn concrete strategies for nurturing relationships that build from respect and empathy, give the volunteer agency, and unite the staff and board as one team.

Key Takeaways: 

(06:48) – Successful strategies to assemble and manage a board: Building trust, making an empathic connection with prospects and creating a meaningful experience for board members. 

(13:27) – How to maintain balance between serving volunteers and advancing the mission. What’s right for the organization vs. drawing out creative ideas from volunteers.

(16:55) – How to prevent the decision-making process from becoming a power struggle, and turn it into a collaborative effort by using decision trees.

(21:26) – How to manage subcommittees to make a large board feel intimate.

(25:20) – There’s probably nothing more valuable for a board member or volunteer than experiencing the impact of their contributions

Connect with Ryan

Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn

Episode Resources

Visit BUILD Official Website

Follow BUILD on Twitter

Check out BUILD’s YouTube Channel

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