Leadership development emphasizes educating and engaging diverse volunteers. As volunteers become more passionate about the mission, they often become more involved. Engaging more leaders leads to program expansion. Thanks to everyone’s hard work the organization grows and provides more essential serves.
Often this expansion leads to new staff positions. What happens when one of the strongest candidates for a staff position is a current or former board member or other highly engaged volunteer. What could be a better fit?
There are many advantages to transitioning a volunteer to staff. A volunteer or board member is clearly passionate about the work. In addition, the organization is familiar with their work and personality and the volunteer is intimately connected with the organization. Through the volunteer’s experiences and service they inherently understand the organization’s accomplishments, expansion, and goals. In many ways it is the best of all worlds.
The challenge may lie in the transition itself. As the volunteer or board member moves from board colleague to staff member, she is supervised by the same people she was once one of. Her work becomes more tailored, and she may not be involved in all of the decision making and leadership opportunities that she once was. As she shifts into her new role, she may feel her opinion is less valued as board leaders turn to others for advice and expertise.
Due to her history, this new staff person, more than any other new hire, has the potential for changing the chemistry of the work environment. It is both the new staff member and the board’s responsibility to evolve their relationship from fellow board member to board and staff. To facilitate this conversion, the board should look for someone else with similar skills to replace the transitioning staff person. In addition, board members should focus on treating this new staff member like any other staff member. This is particularly critical if the new hire does not have a role that is normally connected to the board.
If the transition is working, fellow staff members build trust with the new staff member. They begin to look to her as the board used to. In this role, it is natural for staff to ask the former board member for insight into board activity and decision making. The former board now staff member should carefully weigh the need for staff to understand how best to engage the board and not revealing confidential activity or decision making process.
Once the transition is complete, the staff member begins to feel like staff instead of board with a new relationship with board leadership. As the new staff member becomes more familiar with day to day activities, she will see the organization and its decision making process in a whole new light. Her engagement with other organizations and partners will also deepen.
It is often said that for staff to advance they need to leave the organization. What can organizations do to challenge and build opportunities for staff to grow? In some cases, organizations do not grow fast enough to keep all of their talented staff. What can organizations offer when budgets are tight? We will explore these subjects in the next post.