Guest Guru- Angela Costley Harris of ACH Consulting

Your Volunteer Life, Buttoned Up

A nonprofit organization has approached you to become a volunteer committee or board member, otherwise known as “tapping your time, talent and treasure.” So how does a buttoned up person get involved in worthy causes without becoming … unbuttoned?

First, be ruthless.

Only take on board or committee roles that really fuel your soul. Just because it is a great cause doesn’t mean it is your great cause. An Executive Director I know often says, “There’s a fanny for every seat.” If something is not your great passion, do not take it on thinking no one else will. One woman’s walk-away volunteer position is another woman’s dream job.

Second, know what you are getting into in terms of time, talent and treasure.

A good nonprofit should be happy to give you the names and contact info of current and former volunteers. A quick call is all it takes. If you sense major dysfunction, stay clear. My guess is that you have enough chaos in your home and work life. You don’t need it in your volunteer life.

Third, assess the fundraising responsibilities and your true interest in fundraising.

Nearly every committee member and certainly every board member is expected to donate and to ask their friends and networks for support. Nonprofits are really challenged in a down economy. The demand for services rises at the exact time when donations and grants fall off. Fundraising in such an environment can be challenging, but it is not impossible. I am seeing people raise money at record rates if they truly believe in a cause. Here is a trick to assess your ability and interest in fundraising for a particular organization. Call a friend. Tell them in 30 seconds or less what the organization does and the critical role it plays. If you can do this with passion and enthusiasm without grasping for words or stumbling around, you have the ability to fundraise.

Fourth, know when to move on.

If you got guilted into a role that does not fuel your soul, if you are doing something because you believe there is no one else to do it, or perhaps most difficult of all, if something you have loved for a long time just does not get you out of bed anymore, graciously walk away. In twenty years of working and volunteering in nonprofits I have seen many people walk away, and I have learned that it is not a character flaw to do so. Typically it is what is best for the volunteer and for the nonprofit.

When you have the ability to reel off the importance of the organization to a total stranger in 30 seconds flat and you jump out of bed in the morning ready to hit the email, you will know your heart is completely immersed. Your volunteer life is buttoned up when you are growing just as much from the experience as the people your nonprofit serves.

Angela Costley Harris is the President of ACH Consulting, LLC, which provides association management, fundraising and grant-making support to private foundations, member / trade associations, and public charities. She volunteers for too many organizations to list and jumps out of bed at an astonishingly early hour of the day. Follow her on Twitter at