How best to serve a women's shelter?
February 12, 2007 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I have an interview coming up for a volunteer position on the board of the local women's shelter. I anticipate them asking something along the lines of "what will you do for us as a member of the board," and I'd like to have a good answer.

Applying for the board was suggested to me by the shelter's volunteer coordinator, specifically because I am younger and they have been looking to gain some new perspective.

I'm very fortunate not to have any personal experience with domestic violence, so my knowledge on the subject comes mainly from academic study. Of this I've done a fair amount, but it has been mostly from a philosophical angle. I don't know very much about the day-to-day running of a non-profit organization. The sort of things I initially had in mind to address, such as working to increase the sensitivity and cooperation of local law enforcement, or working awareness of the particular issues facing recent immigrants into policies and procedures (we're in a border town in Ontario), seem not to be a problem for this organization. In fact, from what I can tell they are very efficiently run and even decently funded -- as far as non-profits go, anyway.

The volunteer coordinator has in the past mentioned two goals for the shelter: to broaden their ability to handle different forms of domestic violence (she mentioned elder abuse specifically), and to reach out to younger women. I did not get the impression that these are their only goals, however; it also seems that they are trying generally to be more inclusive, such as recruiting men to serve on the board and to volunteer (where appropriate, of course).

I'm willing to concede that perhaps I'm just not ready to serve on the board yet, and if that's how it works out, that's okay -- I'll still continue to volunteer there and do what I can to help. However, the volunteer coordinator seems confident that I'd be useful on the board and since I do feel strongly about the cause, I'd like to do as much as I can.

So, MeFites: are there any particular issues that are commonly overlooked or under-addressed by shelters? How can I make myself most effective as a member of the board?

As an aside, I found the second paragraph of this comment intriguing, since I consider myself an 'animal person' too -- would it be silly to bring something like that up?
posted by AV to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have always felt that a board member for any organization that questions the status quo is a very valuable member indeed. In this specific case I would emphasize your youth. Your lack of experience coupled with a strong academic background give you a great foundation to be able to say just because we always did it this way, does not mean that it is the best way. Also, by being able to translate the reasons you got involved in the program as a younger person into a way to attract other similar minded folk will really help.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:46 AM on February 12, 2007

The most effective Board Members are an invaluable resource, working hard to:
1) raise money,
2) raise awareness in various media,
3) maintain and re-shape an institution's core mission, and
3) raise money.
Are you excited about or at least comfortable with about any of the above tasks?
If not, maybe your best choice is to politely defer the position and recommend someone who is passionate about it.
I've seen too many really great organizations lose focus and founder from a passive gaggle of leaders.
I'm not implying you wouldn't be a wonderful member--- just really make sure you can commit fully!
posted by Dizzy at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2007

What Dizzy said. That's what I was going to write, almost word-for-word.
posted by SassHat at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2007

Depending on the size of the organization, board members also can bring in skills or abilities that the organization needs, but can’t afford to pay for. That can include legal, technical or “Time”. By Time I mean the ability to attend meetings or join outside committees that the organization requires a presence at.

Business experience is also helpful both on the money raising as well as on the oversight
side of the equation.

I sit on a non-profit board, and the biggest reasons we have people leave the board early is that they have underestimated the time commitment required. We request that potential board members spend time as volunteers with the organization first, in order to get a feel for the day to day operations, as well as the time requirement.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2007

Thanks for the answers so far! I also agree with Dizzy's response, so I'll clarify somewhat: I see my role as being more concentrated in the core mission and awareness-raising areas, and I'm hoping for specific suggestions as to how I might go about contributing constructively in those areas; in other words, what changes to their mission might they want to consider? On whom should they concentrate their awareness-raising efforts that might be getting overlooked?

For what it's worth, the shelter has several well-established annual fundraisers that are consistently successful, and while I am indeed excited about helping with those (I seem to have a knack for event planning) I think my strengths are in the other two categories, and I have been told that this is where they'd like to concentrate more effort.
posted by AV at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2007

"what will you do for us as a member of the board[?]"

"Whatever needs to be done. My understanding is that your current needs include... [ability to serve more diverse situations, etc.]... and I realize that entails fundraising and raising community awareness of the problem...."

The whole "my understanding is blah blah blah" basically raises the issue of "I may not have the whole picture, please enlighten me." The main thrust is that you want to do whatever is right for the greatest possible number of people, right? You are going to figure out what that is by listening to the problems of as many people as possible.
posted by ilsa at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2007

Oh! If you are looking for places to begin community outreach, offer yourself up as a guest speaker to a mom's group such as Mom's Club (who are required by charter to engage in charitable work, the chapter I was a member of adopted the local women's shelter as our "pet charity") or MOPS. If there is a local medical school, chances are there is a local "student auxiliary", and remember these are people (mostly women) who will be in a position to help with fundraising in a decade.

There is also the slim chance that you will find someone who needs your organization's help in these venues. Sad but true.
posted by ilsa at 11:46 AM on February 12, 2007

Do you have a network of friends/ acquaintances/ coworkers who you are willing to approach for donations of time, money and resources. Have you ever organized a fundraising event? Are you a good public speaker? Those are really useful skills.

Some organizations pretty much require that you either be a donor, or find a donor. You clearly have a substantial commitment to the organization and a clear understanding of the mission.
posted by theora55 at 2:52 PM on February 12, 2007

« Older Anyone know anything about the Eastern Shore of...   |   Board shorts for the aerodynamically curvaceous? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.