Living and Giving

Pamela\’s Weekly Words of Wisdom: Why Volunteers, EDs and Boards All Start in the Same Place

Share This Post



An article from Bridgestar titled \”Starting Off on the Right Foot: How to Establish a Good ED-Board Relationship\” explores what executive directors can do to lay the foundations for a solid relationship with board members. This started me thinking that developing a great relationship between a new ED and the Board actually starts with the same premise as volunteering.

What does a good volunteer have in common with a paid Executive Director or a professionally engaged Board?


Everyone needs to listen.

Everyone wants to be heard.

Often I am asked by a volunteer before they go on a trip, \”How do I need to be prepared?\”

And the first thing I say is to be a good listener — Build Together.

In my first volunteer trip to Managua, Nicaragua, we were scheduled to build schools and dormitories. At that time, 90% of students in the community were not currently attending school. We jumped into the project with the villagers and finished the school — but ran out of materials for the dormitories. First instincts as Americans were to brainstorm every possible way to get it done. But access to resources was severely limited. As our Nicaraguan leader stated: “You Americans just want to complete things. We want to create and nourish relationships.”

As we let these words sink in, we truly began to connect and listen to this community. We learned about their life. We built relationships, played with their children, helped cook hundreds of tortillas over hot grills for hundreds of people in the community. We embraced their daily life, and the more we did, the closer the bonds of understanding and joy grew.

It is wonderful to go to another country, complete a volunteer project, and feel that you really had an impact. But establishing a relationship with the local people is by far the most important aspect of the volunteer trip. Building true, lasting relationships results in the greatest benefit for our world: fewer barriers are formed and increased understanding is achieved. We are all a team working together to face and resolve the challenges in our world.

It\’s the same principle here. The Executive Director needs to listen and learn from the team, from the board, from the interns, the funders, the accountants, everyone. It\’s an important time to understand how processes work, how operations occur, how different personalities and teams functions, how the values live themselves throughout the organization.

Equally, the board can listen and learn from the Executive Director. Once the ED has demonstrated the humility to honor current processes, and understand them thoroughly, there should be an openness to new ideas, new efficiencies, new styles, new communications, if they will help the goals of the organization.

Listening… allows everyone to feel heard. To be honored. It\’s the cement building blocks of any good home, and, any good relationship. From there, innovation can spring forth and thrive.

Whomever you are, at whatever state you are in, listening is a great balm to establish and maintain an effective relationship. May listening help all of us in our day-to-days… I am constantly reminding myself, too!