It is widely known that a key responsibility of the board of directors is to identify future leaders. The effort ensures sustainability.

Cultivating volunteers takes time and is a never-ending task. The question here is, "Should the organization's executive director and senior staff be involved?"

Staff have an advantage in knowing the organization and volunteer openings. However, it has been said that an executive director should avoid recruiting leaders to maintain distance from the politics and outcomes. Some organizations expect their executive director to be involved in vetting candidates only after the nominating committee has developed a list.

Best positioned

The CEO or executive is well-positioned to identify volunteers from the population of members. He or she has multiple communication channels with the membership to promote leadership opportunities.

The CEO knows the organizational structure and where there are board and committee seats to be filled. He or she is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of governance.

By knowing the needed skill sets of volunteers, a call can be put out for people with financial acumen, or the ability advance important projects, for instance. With the CEO knowing the amount of time required for various roles, he or she can counter the frequent statement by the nominating committee, "You won't have to do anything on the board."

The approach

Every association seeks to increase engagement. Continuously, members are asked to register for meetings, utilize programs and renew their dues. It's a year-round process.

The staff has familiarity with specific members. They recognize individuals with energy, enthusiasm and skills that would supplement volunteer efforts. When the CEO conducts a member site visit, attends a chapter meeting or welcomes new members, there are opportunities to talk about the association. Even emails, newsletters, social media postings and phone calls are chances to assess volunteer interest.

The CEO and staff may identify members that have a personality and skill sets that will complement the current leadership. Members appreciate hearing of opportunities and how they fit in. Through the process, significant member engagement occurs.

By commenting on the abilities of individuals, member interest increases in the organization. People like to be understood and appreciated for who they are.

After expressing appreciation for the members and their qualities, then ask if they have considered volunteering for a committee or serving on the board. Individuals will react in many ways.

Some will say "yes" without giving it much thought as to time and requirements. The executive is in a good position to describe the responsibilities and time requirements.

Others may be reticent. Navigate through their reticence. Go back to reiterating that they have the characteristics that would be an asset to guiding the association. This interaction has planted the seed for activating and engaging.


For an executive who identifies future leaders, the dividends are significant. Routine conversations with members turn into compliments and leadership opportunities. The corps of volunteers grows.

Outreach is a year-round effort. The association will benefit from new people bringing fresh perspectives, skills, enthusiasm and direction to the organization. The net result are a vibrant, re-energized board and committees.