Volunteers accept positions on boards and committees. Without much thought, the lines blur between the roles of board, committee, and staff.

Stay in Your Lane

Roles in an association are distinct. Every effort complements another. When individuals disregard or disrespect their responsibilities, confusion occurs.

Evidence of uncertainty is heard in, “Why is a board member telling staff how to do their jobs?” And, “The committee thinks they have authority to speak for the board.”

Clarity comes from knowing in which lane to work. Lanes are defined as narrow passageways. They are meant to guide forward motion.

Lanes don’t work if someone is in reverse, weaving, standing idle or broken down. The same applies in an association. While the lane is static, individuals inside the lane advance ideas, issues, and projects.

The lanes should be clear:

Board of directors: The board is responsible for governance (not management.) Its discussions should be strategic and innovative. Conversations that delve into the weeds impede forward motion.

Committees: The committees are charged with projects to advance the strategic plan. The board should avoid doing committee work at the board table.

Management: The professional staff are charged with management and administration. They implement the ideas of the board and committees.

Bumper Cars

An image of lane confusion is a bumper car ride at the fair. Purposely, there are no lanes so ramming others is expected. That does not work in a volunteer organization.

In a swimming pool, imagine the chaos if racers leave their lanes, blindly bumping into others.

On the highway, when we see the car in front of us swerve into other lanes we murmur, “he must be drunk” and “where did he get his driver’s license?”

Weaving in and out of designated lanes does not work in an association or chamber.

Lane Indicators

There are markers to help persons maintain their roles.

Guardrails:The guardrails are the governing documents. Volunteers cannot be effective without understanding the bylaws, policies, and budget.

GPS: The strategic plan is your GPS, in this case standing for “goals, priorities and strategies.” The first thing to ask when joining a board is, “where is the strategic plan, my job is to advance the plan.”

Lanes: Know your assigned lane. Weaving in and out of the lane causes role confusion.

Blinkers: Use your blinker if you intend to change lanes. Be clear about which “hat” you are wearing in the varied volunteer roles.

Speaking of lanes and races, it is worth reminding that volunteer service is not a sprint to finish. It is more like a marathon working diligently to advance a mission and goals.