Knowers, Doers and Funders in Volunteer Boards

Yesterday I had the opportunity to facilitate a governance session for the Edmonton Financial Literacy Society (EFLS).  As a former board member, I was quite happy to assist the organization as it pops its head up and evaluates how to provide value the community.  I hope to do another blog on financial literacy and EFLS, but more to the point is a key concept for volunteer/non-profit boards that I call the ‘Knower-Doer-Funder’ principle.

Basically, this principle is a non-profit organization must balance between the three roles that board members play.  The following table explains them a bit more detail.  These are my definitions and of course no one person is exclusively one or another – only darker and lighter shades of grey.  There are other roles on boards, such as the tourist, which you want to avoid.



Knower Has specific knowledge about the organization’s purpose, role or other matters critical to the board.  For example, a lawyer or an accountant would play the respective knower roles of Legal and Finance issues.
Doer These are the critical worker bees.  These are the folks who keep the lights on and the organization humming along.  For many smaller volunteer organizations, the board member and the ‘Joe-volunteer’ is typically blurred.  That is a board member is often both a chief cook and the bottle washer.
Funder These are the people who either have the money, know people who have money or know how to get the money (e.g. via grant applications, fund raising, etc.).  For smaller organizations with low over head and many doers, the balance of funders may be smaller as compared to an organization whose primary role is to raise money.
Tourist These are board members who have joined to pad their resume.  Generally these folks should be pruned from your board if it seems that they can not be moved into one of the above roles.  Be careful not to prune too soon – some people simply need to feel comfortable.  However missed meetings, “smart-phone-crotch fixation” or silence are usually signs you have a tourist.
Coasting Silverback These are board members have perhaps played one of the above roles but are now coasting.  Like tourists, they should be pruned – but with a great deal more delicacy. While it is good to have wise counsel to balance the enthusiastic newbies, comments of ‘We tried that, did not work’ usually means you have a coaster.  The ideal role for these people is to move them into alumni or into helping with the farm team.
Alumni The alumni is the collection of board members (or volunteers, clients, funders, etc.) who have an interest in the organization – but not enough passion to be actively involved.  Keep the organization’s orbit through an alumni function.  LinkedIn, FaceBook and cheap websites makes this very cheap to maintain.  As well, take a read of this article I wrote on Health-Alumni.
Farm Team This is where you get your next board member.  Establish a mechanism to bring volunteers in, assign the meaningful work and then groom them for a governance role.  In an ideal world, you should have a 2:1 ratio of farm team to board positions.  Nevertheless – don’t forget to pay your volunteers very well (a subject of another blog post).

If you are a member of a volunteer board – firstly thank you.  Quite often organizations forget to say that so let me do this.  In some way, method or fashion you are making the world a better place.  As well, hopefully the organization is paying you well.  But back to the list…. Hopefully this helps you – and if you want to read about the facilitation questions used last night, read my facilitation notes.

So what say you?  Have I missed a role that should be covered?  Does this model resonant with your current volunteer board or ones you have served on in the past?  Post a comment and I will update the model (and steal […. errr, share] your brilliant ideas).

An amendment to this blog.  Two recuritment tools when looking for new board members.  The first is a Microsoft Excel which can help you focus on which industries you want to recruit from.  The second is a Microsoft Word document which can help you plan the recuritment.

Board Recruitment Plan

Board Recruit – Industry Selector