Written by Danielle Stewart // Photo: Aisley Miles; Program Manager; Psychology Student; Board of Directors Volunteer
As we come up to National Volunteer Week, we thought it was a good time to start dispelling some common misconceptions about volunteering. We are launching a new series called, "Day in the Life of a Volunteer" in which we explore the different roles in volunteering by getting real-life experiences straight from the source - the volunteers! Our first piece features Board of Directors volunteer, Aisley Miles. Aisley, Program Manager at Turning Point, shares a bit about what it's like to sit on the Volunteer Central board. Aisley is also currently working towards a Psychology degree.
There are a lot of common misconceptions about volunteering on a Board of Directors. We may think we are under-qualified, or that it may take up too much time. However, volunteering on a Board of Directors is a great way to leverage your knowledge and experience professionally. Volunteering on a Board of Directors can help take your strategic thinking, communication, and planning skills to the next level.
Every non-profit has a group of volunteers known as a Board of Directors who collectively oversee the organization’s mission, strategic objectives, and financial and human resources. While board roles can be a great leadership volunteer opportunity, they can be significantly different based on the size and structure of the non-profit organization and tend to require both a long-term commitment and a notable dedication of time and effort.
How long have you volunteered with Volunteer Central?
I had been wanting to join a board of directors for a couple of years, but wasn’t sure how to go about it and thought that I was under qualified due to previous postings for board members at various agencies that stated their preference of having some-one with experience. One of Volunteer Central newsletters in early 2019 noted that Volunteer Alberta was looking for participants for a new initiative called “Youth @ the Table”, the aim of the program was to engage people ages 18-30 in non-profit governance by pairing youth with a governance board and mentor for a six month period. I applied and was accepted for the Y@TT program that paired me with Volunteer Central in September 2019.
How would you describe your board role?
I was inducted as an official board member in October and have been learning the ropes ever since by attending a training session and meeting with my mentor who went over all of the information with me again and answered any additional questions I had regarding the agency and any policies that I needed more clarification on. My mentor has also been available for any questions that I’ve had and the staff and other board members have been very generous with their time, even meeting with me and allowing me to interview them about their experience with youth engagement over the years.
Was training provided for your role?
During my time with Volunteer Central I have been attempting to immerse myself in the full experience by attending committee meetings and helping out with the planning of the Giving Tuesday 2020 event, and attending fundraisers and events hosted by Volunteer Central. Additionally, I was also able to sit in on the tail end of strategic planning for the agency. While most of this experience has been uncharted territory, everyone on the board and the staff at Volunteer Central has been so welcoming, friendly, and kind - always willing to explain things or answer any questions I have.
What is the time commitment involved on your board?
While my volunteer experience over the years has been limited to short-term and event volunteering due to my limited availability – being on the Volunteer Central board fits perfectly into my schedule as most of the commitment usually takes place in the evenings during the week. I would estimate that between board meetings, committee meetings, reading of emails, and other meetings that I’ve had with fellow board members and staff, the commitment is about 6 hours a month at the most. The amount of involvement is completely up to each individual though.
What common misconceptions do people have about board volunteering?
When I originally thought about what a board of directors would look like, I (and others that I’ve talked to) pictured an “old boys club” scenario where a bunch of ‘old timers’ are sitting around the table doing things the way they always have with little to no room for others and their ideas… Given my experience of working in a not-for-profit agency for the last 7-ish years, I had a general idea of the time commitment of board involvement, but there are probably people who feel that it will take up a lot of their time. Additional misconceptions that I had relating to volunteer with a not-for-profit governance board were that due to my inexperience, I would not be chosen to sit on the board and that people wouldn’t take me seriously due to my age and appearance. Ultimately, everything I believed was not accurate and the board and staff at Volunteer Central have happily received and encouraged me, not to mention, that our board is made up of a diverse group of folks with an array of backgrounds and life experience.
What do you like most about volunteering for Volunteer Central?
Overall, my experience with Volunteer Central has been amazing. Despite the Youth @ the Table program ending this month (March 2020), I have decided to remain on the Volunteer Central board. Both the agency and board has enhanced my life in numerous ways and I wholeheartedly believe that Volunteer Central is an asset to the City of Red Deer and Central Alberta as a whole. Through Volunteer Central I have been able to connect with my professional peers, recruit volunteers for the agency I work at, attended professional development, and connected with some amazing opportunities happening in the province through the Volunteer Central website and newsletter (including a leadership residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity that came at zero cost to me). So, I would say that my favorite thing about Volunteer Central is its ability to connect and strengthen the communities that I have lived in within Central Alberta, often going unnoticed or under recognized for their involvement.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in volunteering on a non-profit board?
For anyone looking to make a difference in their community or have their voices heard in relation social issues or values that you stand behind, joining a non-profit board is a great way to accomplish this. Each person brings unique experiences and ideas to the table helping to make the board and agency it’s serving as successful as it can possibly be. Additionally, for folks with anxiety or apprehension, if you find a board you might be interested reach out, ask questions. Inquire about whether you can sit in on a meeting to see what it’s all about. Volunteers are the key to success in the not-for-profit sector regardless of your role or the amount of time you commit, you are making a difference.
Check out opportunities to join a Board of Directors here.