Cleaning, Boards and Increasing Ownership

Several years ago I had a roommate. She and I agreed to split up the household duties. I would keep the yard mowed / weeded / etc. and she would vacuum, dust and keep the inside of the house clean. I wasn’t long before I realized that her definition of clean and my definition of clean were very different.

At that point I had a choice. I could resent her for not meeting my expectations. I could go behind her and clean up a second time around (and risk her stopping any cleaning altogether). Or I could change my definition of clean. I opted for the third choice (although I have to admit that the first two were VERY tempting).

You might be wondering what this has to do with nonprofits. There’s a temptation we face when we’re leading (or being a staff liaison to) a committee. And that is to step in and do things for people. We feel like we know the best way to do things. And in a way it is the best way (at least the best way if we were implementing it). However different people bring different perspectives, different experiences, and different comfort levels for different ways of doing things. If we’re going to engage people to do things, we need to be comfortable with doing things, well, differently.

Here are some additional reasons why stepping in and doing things are not the best way to proceed for most nonprofits:

  • First, it basically tells our volunteers that we feel like we don’t need them. And nothing could be further from the truth. The long-term viability of a nonprofit organization is contingent on a large base of community support – and that includes an active board that is effectively governing the organization. Regardless, if someone feels as if their work isn’t needed they are more likely to ‘check-out.’
  • Ownership of a task – or program – or activity will help ensure that the activity is completed. If someone doesn’t have ownership of it, it becomes easier to push the activity off and get to it ‘sometime.’ After all, it’s not their responsibility. Stepping in and doing an activity for someone strips them of their feelings of ownership and decreases the possibility that the person will step forward in the future.
  • And sometimes, believe it or not, other people may have insight into the project that will allow them to come up with a better solution than we would have.

So the next time you think about stepping in and taking over something a board member – or other volunteer – is working on, I hope you’ll think twice. Instead, give the person who volunteered a call and find out how you can better support them in their efforts. You might be surprised at the result.

Those are just some of my ideas. What about you? Other thoughts on why stepping in is not a great idea?

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