Partnering with Leadership Volunteers Manual

Who is this manual for?

This document highlights best practices for partnering with leadership volunteers. It has been written for CNIB staff and volunteers, as well as colleagues in other not-for-profit organizations, who are new to partnering with leadership volunteers, or who wish to be more effective in developing partnerships with them. The intention is to provide insight into the roles and challenges faced by leadership volunteers and provide them with a welcoming, collaborative, open environment. This includes actively listening to volunteers, providing all required information to fulfill their roles, and in valuing and celebrating their contribution in meaningful ways. Only with this partnership can the organizational mission be achieved.

This manual is available as a WORD document at the bottom of the page. We have done this to make the material as accessible as possible - and to allow people from different organizations to be able to adapt and tailor the manual for their needs. If you do so, please provide an acknowledgement that CNIB created the original document.

We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for us to offer this manual in accessible, alternative formats - our braille room volunteers for creating braille manuals, our library volunteers for producing audio copies and Jim Parkin for formatting large print versions.

To request an accessible (braille, audio, large print) copy, please email


Providing input into this document was a Working Group of leadership volunteers and CNIB staff, including Cathie Mason, Regional Manager, CNIB; Dorothy Macnaughton, Chair of CNIB Ontario Divisional Board and Chair of CNIB Northern Ontario Region Board; Jane Beaumont, Past Chair, CNIB National Board of Directors; Jeannie Collins-Ardern, Past Member of CNIB Ontario Advisory Board; Monique Pilkington, Executive Director CNIB Ontario Northern Region; and Ruth Millard Coordinator of Volunteer Services, CNIB.

People who shared comments and stories with us included Christall Beaudry, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Division, CNIB; Jaclyn Lavigne, Manager Board Relations, CNIB; Ken Boshcoff, Past Member of CNIB Ontario Board and Vice-Chair of Northern Ontario Regional Board; and Len Baker, Regional Vice President, Ontario and Quebec Division, CNIB. Our sincere thanks go out to all of them.

Special thanks to Susan Ellis, founder of Energize, Inc. who provided valuable insights, and to the "Strengthening Communities Through Volunteer Program Development" Core Project Members – Jennifer Spencer, Kat Clarke, Marilyn McGale and Susan Cheeseman (all of CNIB).


Definition of Leadership Volunteers

In many respects, leadership volunteers are much like the majority of volunteers who assist in offering our services, but they differ in some key areas because of the roles they play and their responsibilities.

Leadership volunteers are the people who provide the insights, skills and relationships required at the highest levels to support the mission of CNIB. They spend their time with us looking to the future and focusing on improving the world and the lives of the people in it.

To better understand CNIB's philosophy of partnership with volunteers, please see Appendix #1 – Spirit of Partnership and Appendix #2 – CNIB's Philosophy of Volunteerism.

Leadership Volunteer Roles at CNIB

Board and Committee Members

Leadership volunteers guide, inform and monitor the development and implementation of our strategic plans. They oversee the stewardship of the organization, ensuring its fiscal soundness. They facilitate, build and help to manage relationships with stakeholders and partners. They advocate on behalf of the organization and the people we serve. Leadership volunteers are essential to the organization's effectiveness and success – and therefore to the success of the people we serve.

Like other volunteers who donate their time to support our mission, board and committee members do not get paid (unlike private sector members who are paid). In fact, as in most non-profit organizations, there is an expectation that each leadership volunteer is not just a time donor, but a money donor as well.

For more information on Board and Committee members, please see the following documents:

Philanthropy Volunteers

In addition to board and committee members, CNIB also benefits from partnering with leadership volunteers who support our philanthropy efforts. In many ways, all leadership volunteers can be philanthropy volunteers, making contacts and connecting people who may become donors with staff. However, some people choose to make this their priority for the organization.

Here is a description of CNIB's Philosophy of Fundraising and Philanthropy.

Fundraising is the act of raising money, but philanthropy is the motivation that drives donors' decisions to invest. The leadership volunteers who support us in this area partner with our staff members who specialize in major gifts (over $5,000). They focus on the donor development process, introducing us to new prospective donors, identifying and developing programs that require funding, cultivating relationships with donors to help them realize their philanthropy objectives and closing deals.

Here is a description of the Philanthropy – Donor Development Process.

Tip: Ask the philanthropy volunteer how they want to be involved in fundraising activities. If the volunteer is making an introduction of a staff member to a personal contact, they may expect to continue to be involved throughout the development process with that prospective donor. They can play a key role in developing and stewarding the relationship. Of course, there needs to be an agreement that relevant information is fed back to staff from the volunteer (and vice versa) after each contact or meeting with the prospect to ensure appropriate follow-up is done. The volunteer might be the best person to "make the ask". Or, if they are not making the ask, they can play an important support role by affirming the donor's choice and sharing with the prospect if they have also made a similar philanthropic commitment. Their story may be just what the prospect needs to hear.

Volunteer Comment

"I have personally identified with CNIB and am passionate about furthering CNIB's mission by being a Philanthropy Leadership Volunteer and by contributing financially through my monthly donations, annual gifts and through my estate. Through my volunteer role in fundraising, I have been able to widen CNIB’s circle of influence by introducing new prospects to CNIB from my personal network, and by meeting individually with CNIB's highest-level donors resulting in generating a ripple effect of goodwill, community education and making a difference in the lives of CNIB's clients."

- Ken Boshcoff, Past Member of CNIB Ontario Board and Vice-Chair of Northern Ontario Regional Board

Senior Advisors and Project Volunteers

People who have risen to the top of their profession often want to share their knowledge and experience with organizations they respect, but in an unstructured way. This might be a retired journalist who assists CNIB's communications team by interviewing the people we serve and writing their personal stories. It could be a senior executive from the technology industry who provides us with advice for our tech fairs or makes introductions for us to people in the technology community who can create new products for people with vision loss. It could be a well-known chef who comes in periodically to hold cooking lessons for our March Break kids' camps.

Stars in their own right, these leadership volunteers enrich our thinking and expand the kinds of services we can deliver, simply by sharing their knowledge, enthusiasm and encouragement.

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Value of Leadership Volunteers to CNIB

Staff Comment

“Volunteers in leadership roles bring a wealth of experience and connections to CNIB. Whether it is to provide input into a strategic plan, mentor youth, provide guidance on an organizational challenge or put a staff member in contact with a new donor – these volunteers help CNIB deliver on our organizational goals.”

- Christall Beaudry, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Division, CNIB

Leadership volunteers come from all walks of life and from all corners of Canadian society. When they choose to partner with us, they bring their experience, skills and perspectives, enriching us and shaping our decisions for moving forward. Because they are not paid, they bring an energy and a determination to make a difference that is priceless.

Carol Weisman, board dynamics expert and consultant, explains that the people we seek to fill these leadership positions fall into two distinct types: Visionaries and Planners. Visionaries contribute the bold and innovative thinking that helps us continually improve and stay relevant. They are not afraid to dream big and challenge us to stretch ourselves. We balance the visionaries with planners who are skilled in bringing dreams to reality and covering the details that must not be overlooked or rushed. Both types are needed in any successful organization.

Bill Somervile (veteran foundation executive) and Fred Setterberg (writer and co-author with Bill Somerville of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker) break leaders into three groups:

  • Sparkers who generate ideas
  • Igniters who turn ideas into programs
  • Burners who keep programs percolating within an effective organization

Regardless of what we call them, we need leadership volunteers with diverse outlooks, working together; they are all equally valuable.

Staff Comment

“As we embarked upon our Path to Change strategy, our leadership volunteers helped guide our advocacy planning – forming a working group that met with staff on a regular basis to help review our objectives, contribute initiatives and act as a sounding board as we blue-skied ideas.  These volunteers brought perspective and creativity to the process that fundamentally and meaningfully informed the plan we developed.  Staff had thought leaders to tap into, who donated their time and talent. It was a rewarding experience for us all."

- Len Baker, Regional Vice President, Ontario and Quebec Division, CNIB

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Recruiting Leadership Volunteers

The right leadership volunteers can shape the course of an organization. At CNIB, they help guide and monitor the organization's programs and services and our impact on people with sight loss. They assist by raising significant dollars, influencing political decision makers and promoting our mission. They open doors because they have influence and contacts that can further our cause. And, if they are blind or partially sighted, they help other leadership volunteers and senior staff better understand what it is like to live with vision loss. (To learn more about working with people who are blind or partially sighted, please refer to Partnering with Volunteers with Vision Loss manual and toolkit.)

If you have been tasked with helping to recruit leadership volunteers, you will quickly discover that it isn't easy. Why? One reason is because of the sheer number of non-profit organizations in Canada. (There are over 170,000 nonprofit organizations in Canada, including 85,000 registered charities that are recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency.) The competition is stiff.

21st Century Expectations

Societal changes have also made leadership volunteer recruitment more difficult. Young people may not have the experience needed to hold leadership volunteer positions. People who have the experience may be juggling their jobs with parenting their children and caring for their parents, making "extra" time scarce. Retirees are travelling and taking on personal activities – and some are raising grandchildren or caring for family members who are living at home longer.

But it isn't always about limited experience or time. Some people who have high profiles and great responsibilities at work want their free time to be less supervisory, preferring to work on the front line without the spotlight on them (President Jimmy Carter is a good example of this. He is said to love swinging a hammer to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity.) It is important that we direct such people to roles they would like – and we have lots of opportunities. A Vision Mate role might be perfect for such a person.

When we are recruiting for any type of volunteer role, we are looking for that sweet spot that exists between our needs and the volunteer's needs. Our leadership volunteers may come from our donor base; they could be a recipient of our services; they could already be volunteering alongside service staff; or they could be completely new to CNIB and vision loss. The bottom line is that the cause, the particular role we may have in mind for them, and our work environment fit with the particular volunteer.

The Recruitment Process

"If what we are doing is important, then it is important to find the right volunteer."

- Carol Weisman, board dynamics expert and consultant

At CNIB, the recruitment process varies, depending on the particular role being filled. For example, the national board has the most formal process for recruitment. The Nominating Committee (a sub-committee of the national board) maintains a competency matrix showing the skills, experiences, and particular demographic features (including whether or not the person has vision loss) of each member of the current board and its committees. By comparing this matrix with an assessment of the board's or committee's ideal composition, it is possible to identify gaps that should be filled when recruiting. Another critical recruiting factor is the expected fit of the candidate with the existing group. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the board, it is important to have diversity of views held by individuals who can work together toward a common goal. When positions are open on the national board or committees, a call goes out for nominations. Interested parties must fill out an Expression of Interest form and submit their CV to the Nominating Committee for evaluation. Those candidates deemed most suitable are interviewed by a subset of the Nominating Committee. Once the interviewing process is completed, the Nominating Committee must formulate a recommendation on which the entire board votes. Those who are being considered are contacted and asked to attend an interview with a selection of the committee members.

Recruitment for other leadership volunteer positions is less formal, but a competency matrix always plays an important role. 

Where do we find leadership recruits?

The first place to begin the search is with people who have already demonstrated their belief in our vision. Once we have a clear role description, it makes sense to look at current and past volunteers, donors and clients to see if someone we already know could be a good fit.

Current volunteers in non-leadership roles should be included in a search to fill leadership openings. It is important for employees working with volunteers at all levels to be trained to recognize talent and interest in taking on increased responsibility. The volunteer may not realize their own potential and may only need a little bit of encouragement. Questions to ask include:

  • Do you think we are engaging you in the most effective way?
  • Is there anything you would like to be involved in that we haven't suggested to you?
  • What roles have you held in other organizations in your working and volunteer career?

It is also important not to overlook people who have volunteered with us in the past, but who have fallen out of the habit or had to leave due to other commitments. A current volunteer may be just the right person to reach out to a past volunteer, to tell them they have been missed, and invite them to re-engage. The prospect will need to know how the organization has changed and what their new role might be. Sometimes all it takes is being asked.

Donors may be excellent leadership volunteers. One strategy is to have current volunteers and/or staff call donors to thank them for their support. The conversation should cover the reasons why they contribute and the issues that matter to the donor. It can be easily pointed out that there are other ways of giving – including giving time. A description of a role you have in mind might result in a new leadership role being filled.

Another tactic is to ask current and past leadership volunteers to identify candidates. If they know someone who may fit our specific needs, they can be asked to reach out to their friends, family, co-workers and other contacts.

Every organization has someone who is a common thread – the one person that several other volunteers have in common. Those common threads are gold and should be acknowledged, thanked and enlisted in the recruiting effort, providing they are astute enough to pick the right people for the available roles.

Simultaneous with an internal review to identifiy qualified candidates, there should also be an external call-out.

  • The passive approach to finding outside candidates for leadership volunteer positions is to post all open opportunities to the CNIB website and to other external web search channels to invite applicants to submit their resumes.
    • E.g., Maytree/DiverseCity, Board Match, the Institute of Corporate Directors, Charity Village, Association of Fundraising Professionals, etc.
  • Search LinkedIn and websites that target people with the skill set being sought. In some cases, a simple "Google" search can result in names of people falling within a specific profession in a particular geographic area.
  • If both of these methods fail, it may be necessary to reconsider the posting to ensure that it is conveying the intended message, and that it is not asking for qualifications that are not necessary for the role.  It also may be appropriate to re-examine the role itself to ensure that it is clear and indeed is possible to fill.
  • Finally, if the role description and the posting have been re-examined and found to be appropriate, it may be necessary to work with an external consultant who can assist with the critical parts of the role, or with a consultant who may be more successful in finding a volunteer for the role.

How to make contact with a potential leadership volunteer

Once a name has been identified, reach out, either by phone or through social networking, and explain why you think they might be interested in getting involved with the organization. In these conversations, it is important to speak to them from their point of view – acknowledge their accomplishments and lead with their skills, not your needs. They may say no, but typically they will think well of our organization and may suggest someone else for us to contact.

Recruiting Young Leadership Volunteers

A program called PREB may be helpful when you are trying to attract young volunteers. PREB is a volunteer program that allows certified organizations to issue PREB certificates to volunteers. The certificate summarizes the experiences, responsibilities and skills the volunteer demonstrated during their tenure. Since many young volunteers get involved with non-profit organizations in order to build up their credentials, issuing PREB certificates could make the difference between a potential volunteer choosing CNIB over another organization. Skills listed on a PREB certificate are based on Employment and Social Development Canada's National Occupational Classification Code, making it highly valuable to youth wishing to enter the job market, newcomers who are seeking recognized Canadian work experience, and people seeking to change careers.

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The Interview and Screening Process for Leadership Volunteers

When beginning to work with any volunteer, we need to strike a fine balance between persuading and screening, and between expediency and our need to ensure we are doing the right thing – both for the recruit and for the organization and the people we serve.

While a process must be followed and documented, it is important to move it along as quickly as possible and to be respectful of the recruit's time and point of view. We need to be responsive and accountable. And we want to avoid losing candidates who are discouraged by what can look like needless bureaucracy or invasiveness.

That said, we must conduct the process professionally. Screening documents should be kept on file, and people involved in the process should keep in mind that the information they record may at some point need to be shared externally for legal reasons.

  • In most cases, the recruit will submit their CV and fill out an Expression of Interest form in order to provide basic information about their background, skills, interests and personal goals, whether they have vision loss and have used CNIB's services, etc. That information will help us match them up on our competency matrix for recruitment purposes.
  • However, if a prospective volunteer does not apply and instead is approached by a senior member of staff or by a leadership volunteer, such documentation may not be requested until the person is on board.
  • All potential volunteers go through interviews as part of the screening process, however there may be an extra layer of interviews in the case of leadership volunteers. Depending on the role they are pursuing, meetings (in person or by teleconference) are set up for them with senior staff, and at times, other leadership volunteers. Those meetings allow the volunteer to learn more about the organization, the board/committee/role and provide our decision makers with an opportunity to learn about the recruit's personal goals. Together they review the role description to determine if we have the right fit and how we would like to proceed.
  • Personal and professional reference checks are relevant whenever a volunteer is not well known by the organization. Staff should ensure that leadership volunteers are indeed not well known to senior staff before asking them for references.

Tip: Potential leadership volunteers are typically busy people. You may have more success in recruiting if the initial in-person meeting is at their place of business or somewhere convenient for them, rather than at your location.

Establishing Expectations

It is important to take the necessary time to define the roles of leadership volunteers. For a person to agree to be involved with us, they need a clear picture of the role they will be expected to perform, the effort and time commitment that will be required and the timeframe during which they will be needed. We are open to negotiation with the volunteer, but keep in mind that our goals must not be sacrificed.

That negotiation may happen over a period of time, including after a volunteer has begun to engage with us. We need to ensure we match the leadership volunteer with the right task for them, and that we are not asking them to give more time than they have available. Our first attempt may not be quite right, or the volunteer’s interests or circumstances may have changed. In any case, our commitment is to continue to work with the volunteer to get it right. It is only then that the volunteer may stay with us over the long term.

Over and above the duties and timeframe, we need to outline the support systems and people that are in place to support leadership volunteers in their role, so the potential volunteer knows what to expect from CNIB staff and fellow volunteers. They should know about the training and orientation we provide and who to go to when they have questions – everything a person would need to know in order to be successful in a new role.

Once there is a verbal agreement with a leadership volunteer, some organizations suggest both the organization and the recruit sign a Letter of Agreement outlining the commitment.

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Mentorship, Orientation and Training of Leadership Volunteers

Orientation happens after the volunteer has agreed to join the organization.

In some cases, an official mentor is assigned to ease a new leadership volunteer's transition into their new role. For example, CNIB's national board assigns a mentor (a returning board member) to pair with a mentee (a new board member) for the mentee's first year. Likewise, the Northern Ontario Regional Board has initiated a less formal process to help new board members adjust. In this case, the Board Chair personally phones new board members, not only to welcome them and find out if they have any questions, but also to make an initial contact with them outside of the first board meeting. It is an opportunity to ask the new volunteer about their skills and interests, to share personal stories and generate enthusiasm. In case of philanthropy volunteers and senior advisor volunteers, a senior staff person may be assigned to this mentorship role.

When and where formal and detailed orientation and training will take place is explained by staff during the initial conversation following the agreement to serve as a leadership volunteer. It is helpful for the volunteer to know beforehand how much time they will need to commit to the training.

Names and contact information of key staff (those aligned with the role of the volunteer) should be communicated. Make sure the volunteer knows which staff they can approach with the inevitable questions they will have, and ensure those employees understand how highly valued these volunteers are so they respond quickly and completely.

In the case of board members, it is also important to ensure that the new volunteer understands CNIB’s board indemnification as well as its general insurance covering volunteers and Directors’ & Officers’ Insurance.  The volunteer should be very clear on the situations where indemnification and insurance would apply, the limits and exclusions of both, and the procedure to be followed in case of a potential need to use it.

There are various kinds of orientation and training that CNIB offers to new leadership volunteers, as opposed to volunteers working at other levels.

  • Depending on their knowledge of vision loss, they might review the e-learning modules about working with people with vision loss that we share with all new staff and other volunteers. Sighted volunteers can receive training on how to be a sighted guide for people with vision loss.
  • If they are on a board, there may be a special board orientation day. For example, for new board members, the orientation session is an essential learning experience; for returning board members it is an optional refresher.
  • CNIB's national board holds an orientation session annually.
  • Divisional and regional board and committee members also receive board training when they join their boards and may receive some additional training annually. For example, regional boards in Ontario have been offered advocacy skills training.

Once the orientation session has taken place, the various boards and committees create their work plans. Each leadership volunteer should emerge with a clear sense of what they are working to achieve and how they, individually, fit into the work plan. If they are not clear, it is staff's responsibility, along with the board chair, to address that.

For additional information, see our Creating a Culture of Volunteerism manual and training guide.

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Stewarding and Retention of Leadership Volunteers

Leadership volunteers need to know that they have access to all the tools and information necessary to do their assigned tasks, that there is support from staff and fellow volunteers when needed, and that they are respected and valued by the organization. This last point is especially important for leadership volunteers because their services are in high demand by other organizations. Therefore, staff should take the time get to know the leadership volunteers they work with. It is important that staff understand their motivation for volunteering, learn how they like to engage, properly manage their expectations and give them the right information to meet their needs and the organization’s.

Once you have a person all set up to fill a leadership volunteer role, you want to engage them and keep them with us for as long as they are needed and would like to be involved. They have gone through their orientation and contributed to the creation of their work plan (role-depending). Now you need to support them in whatever ways you can to help them succeed in their role – and enjoy the process.

"No pay doesn't mean no pay-off!"

- Carol Weisman, board dynamics expert and consultant

People volunteer for as many reasons as there are people, but for everyone, there needs to be some sort of benefit to the volunteer. It could be as simple as feeling good about themselves for having helped others or that they have contributed knowledge, skills or connections that were not previously available. Many studies show that people who volunteer without an expectation of a reward are more satisfied with their lives than people who expect payment for their efforts. That satisfaction with life is often all the reward they seek.

For that sense of well-being to occur, the giver needs to know that their gift has made a difference. This can be difficult, especially for leadership volunteers working on boards and committees. They sometimes feel as though they are working in a silo, separated from others within and outside the organization. Staff play a key role in the success of the entire organization by reporting the achievements of leadership volunteers – and of the organization – back to them. Your job is to help them draw a line from the work they have done to the impact of that work in the community.

As a senior staff member, your aim should be to fulfill this by showing leadership volunteers how they have changed for the better the story of the people we serve, and by offering opportunities for them to continue to be involved or to do more. We recognize that it isn't about the amount of time they give us – it is about what that contribution does. (As a staff member, keep in mind that in order to have the data to show their contribution and its impact, programs and services must contain evaluation processes in the program logic right from the beginning stages. Only with these in place can we draw conclusions about any impact, and share it with staff and volunteers.)

At CNIB, one way we can ensure this process happens for leadership volunteers is to provide them with regular opportunities to meet other volunteers who contribute to different parts of the organization – and to meet the recipients of our services so they can see for themselves how their work makes a real difference to the quality of people's lives. This can be as simple as inviting a leadership volunteer to attend a client recognition event or to join a peer-to-peer group meeting.

See Tips for Working with Leadership Volunteers in the Toolkit for this manual.

Volunteer Comment

"Leadership volunteers have usually committed to a specific term of service. The challenge is keeping them engaged and supporting CNIB when they are no longer on a board or committee, and/or transitioning them to other types of volunteering. My predecessor as chair (of the CNIB national board of directors) is now an active Vision Mate (volunteering to spend regular time with a person with vision loss to help them out in whatever ways are needed), which is great!"

- Jane Beaumont, Past Chair, CNIB national board of directors

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The Role of Staff

Leadership volunteers require appropriate support, primarily from senior management staff, in order to guide their contribution. More than anything, they need a clear mandate, the information required to fulfill the mandate and feedback about the impact of the organization in the community.

As a senior-level employee, you have probably become accustomed to working with leadership volunteers. You may even have been a board member yourself in another organization, so you may have the benefit of having walked in their shoes. No matter what your personal volunteer experience may be, you can appreciate that mutual respect is vital.

Learn the proper protocols about the prescribed way that staff and leadership volunteers should interact (for example, if the Chair and/or CEO are required to be involved when you are reaching out to a board member). When appropriate, ask leadership volunteers questions – many people at this stage of their career like to teach, mentor and be asked for their opinions and recommendations. What you find out in return can be valuable to yourself and to CNIB.

Staff Comment

"Staff need to take the time to learn about leadership volunteers. Find out what their personal story is and what motivates them to be involved. Once you do this, you will have a different relationship with each volunteer. That's good. Then think about the kind of things they could do that they would find rewarding and the kind of feedback and information they need to hear to contribute in a significant way and to continue to be motivated."

- Jaclyn Lavigne, Manager, Board Relations, CNIB

Effective Partnership

Little frustrates a leadership volunteer more than feeling that their knowledge, skills and experience are not being used to full advantage. Ask the volunteer to share their skills and experience, their vision of the contribution they can make, and see if it aligns with their current role.

Once they are happily entrenched in a role, don't change it without consultation with them. Too often leadership volunteers are presented, without warning, with revised expectations for their role or for the organization. This leaves them feeling left out, not valued and/or not listened to. The most effective way to avoid this is to include them in discussions about changing roles or new ideas.

If the volunteer is particularly effective in their role, resist the urge to ask them to do too much. Organizations can tend to call on the same volunteers, over and over again. All volunteers devote a significant amount of their time to the organization's mission, and want to see other volunteers treated similarly to themselves. Try to distribute the workload as evenly as possible. Over time, over-used volunteers may feel burnt out, stressed, resentful, and/or may choose to cease volunteering for the organization.

Complete, Timely Information

First, find out what they need to know. Speak to leadership volunteers openly to understand the kind of information they find helpful. Ask them what they need to know in order to be able to provide the leadership we are seeking from them.

Keep in mind that their backgrounds are disparate – therefore, information needs will vary from volunteer to volunteer. For example, someone can be an expert on philanthropy, but not on vision loss. Likewise, one volunteer might have had a long history with the organization, while another one is new.

Provide the information in the format that works best for the volunteer. In the case of people with vision loss, the information must be communicated in the format they require (which staff should have determined when the volunteer was accepted). When in doubt, ask.

Give leadership volunteers adequate time to review critical information to enable them to adequately prepare for meetings. In most cases, we aim to provide leadership volunteers with at least one week before key meetings to review documents, and we ensure that includes a weekend, since many have other jobs and roles that take up their time during the traditional work week. It is important to consider that volunteers with vision loss need time to ensure documents are accessible and may need longer to read documents in accessible formats.

Share openly and tell them what is confidential and what isn't (most leadership volunteers have signed confidentiality agreements and should therefore pose no risk to you when you share with them).

Make yourself available to the volunteer to answer questions, including challenging ones. One of the things that makes any board useful is the natural curiosity of the members. Make sure they know who on staff they can approach in your absence, as well.

"What makes a great board is when people can respectfully ask the difficult and potentially politically insensitive questions and discuss them openly and honestly."

- Carol Weisman, board dynamics expert and consultant

Check in regularly to ensure they understand the information you have provided and that their questions are answered to their satisfaction.


Remember to celebrate the achievements of leadership volunteers. Take the time to ask the volunteer how they would like their contributions to be recognized. It varies from volunteer to volunteer and is also dependent on how much volunteering they have done. Most volunteers will be quite specific about what they feel is an appropriate way to thank them.

There is no better way to make leadership volunteers feel valued and to communicate their contributions to staff than to personally thank them, or to include them in staff/volunteer appreciation events and initiatives. Go out of your way, whenever you can, to tell other staff what leadership volunteers have achieved and how appreciated their efforts have been. All staff will be better informed about the roles and value of leadership volunteers.

Exit Interviews

It is important for senior staff to have an exit interview with a volunteer who has chosen to resign from a given role, or to cease being a CNIB volunteer entirely. Volunteers have full lives, and sometimes for personal or professional reasons, they must decrease their commitments. However, sometimes volunteers quit a role or an organization due to some factors such as:

  • Feeling they are not being engaged effectively
  • Feeling over-used relative to other similar volunteers
  • Frustrated over not receiving timely, relevant information to fulfill their role
  • Not understanding their role and how they contribute to the organization

In these cases, it may be possible to reverse the volunteer's decision by rectifying the issues most frustrating to the volunteer. However, if the volunteer has already committed to another organization, or if their mind is set on leaving, do not try to persuade them to stay. To get the most benefit from the volunteer's experiences, it is important that the conversation be friendly and non-judgmental.

By conducting the interview as a respectful, non-confrontational conversation, the senior staff can better understand the viewpoint of the volunteer, and make it possible to improve the experiences of other volunteers. Exit interviews are unique opportunities to learn from others' experiences.

By ensuring that each volunteer is respected and valued, and by respecting their decision to leave, it may be possible for the volunteer to return at a later date, or they may recommend CNIB to others looking for volunteer opportunities.


Closing Thoughts

In summary, when CNIB engages volunteers at any level, it is important to remember:

  • The gift (the volunteer's time, skills and effort) is not to CNIB; the gift goes through CNIB to the people we serve. CNIB is merely the connection or the conduit to the community.
  • Volunteers choose to join the causes that suit them and are attracted to types of work that they enjoy and feel they can do well. It is our job to place them in roles that suit them and to provide them with the information they need to do well and the feedback they require to gauge and feel their impact.
  • Volunteers are choosing an environment in which they will be spending time. They want, at the end of the day, to look back and feel great about what they did and how they were treated. And we want them to keep on doing it.

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Appendix #1 - Spirit of Partnership

Partnership. Nothing defines CNIB's culture more accurately. In 1918, after the end of World War One, a group of about 200 Canadian veterans, blinded in the war, realized there was a need in the community to improve the lives of Canadians with vision loss, and that they could best meet that need by working together. They created CNIB in the spirit of partnership.

We still strive to operate that way now, almost 100 years later. At this point in time, millions of Canadians have been touched by CNIB – and it isn't only people with vision loss. Over the years, CNIB has partnered with countless volunteers, donors, community organizations, health and medical groups, and governments to support our mission: to ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life

We have come to understand that we can achieve our mission only by working together. The mission is the cause that we have in common with our partners. Partnering is a strategy – it is a key part of how we will achieve the mission. The programs we provide to people with vision loss are the tools we will use to make it happen.

As we approach our 100th anniversary, we know that there is still much to be done to achieve our mission and to perfect our approach to partnership. Our commitment to partnership is an acknowledgement that we are all interdependent and our power lies in our ability to be good partners, to partner with people whose values and ambitions align with ours, and to maintain our partnerships over the long term as they shift and develop.

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Appendix #2 - CNIB's Philosophy on Volunteerism

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

- Helen Keller

No matter how skilled and dedicated our paid employees are, CNIB recognizes that the people we serve require and deserve a wide variety of service options, resources and approaches that cannot be offered by the staff alone. We see volunteers as a huge community talent pool – with diverse backgrounds and limitless potential to contribute varied talents to expand opportunities for people who are blind and partially sighted. Volunteers are time donors (and often financial donors, too) who serve side-by-side with paid staff, and who can connect with people in a unique way. In many cases, it is the fact that they are not paid that resonates so profoundly with community members.

To be successful, we must treat every volunteer as a valued partner. Because volunteers choose to partner with us, we are able to serve larger numbers of people. But more than that, the generous natures of volunteers and their gifts are deeply appreciated by the people we serve, as well as by our staff and other partners. We know that volunteers bring their unique points of view that have resulted from their personal experiences, relationships and values. Many of our time volunteers have been recipients of our services. Others have been money donors and want to find an additional way to give. They bring scope, depth, knowledge, connections and more. In other words, they enrich and expand our thinking, not just our reach.

Our philosophy of volunteerism is also very much influenced by our dedication to breaking down barriers and building inclusive communities – both within CNIB, as well as in the towns and cities where we live. It is important to us to provide an accessible workplace and to include people with vision loss and other disabilities on our staff and among our volunteers and other partners.

We know that being a good partner requires attention and care. Our first priority is to be welcoming, to listen to each potential volunteer, honour their level of commitment and ensure they have the training and support they require once they have been accepted.

We respect that volunteers need to do their research to be sure we are the right fit for them – that our values (passion, empowerment, respect, innovation, professionalism and dedication) align with theirs and the environment and culture we have created allows them to achieve their personal goals. And once they make the choice to join us, we do our best to find the volunteer roles that suit them. We endeavour to present them with many opportunities and ways to make their precious gifts.

We understand that after a volunteer has joined us, they need to feel their time spent with us is worthwhile. Volunteer engagement is a core competency for our staff, ensuring volunteers feel comfortable and respected at CNIB. Evaluation is built into every program and role description because we know how important it is to regularly tell time volunteers (and staff and financial donors, too) how their investment has had an impact. We all need to see the link from our contribution to the achievement of our mission. And we all have a need to know we have been heard. Volunteers must also have the opportunity to provide us with feedback on their experience during their time with the organization. That feedback, whether positive or negative, is another valuable gift that helps us continually improve.

We need volunteers who understand our mission and are willing to make a firm commitment. Our first priority is to provide excellent service. We need volunteers who share that view.

The years have taught us to accept that even though a person may be volunteering with us now, that might change. In the future, they might want to take on more responsibility or be less involved, or give in a different way. What matters to us is that their experience with us is one they will remember proudly and fondly – that they will feel they were valued and they made a positive difference in people's lives.

Every volunteer is an ambassador for CNIB, whether formal or not. We hope our volunteers will share their impressions with the people in their lives. Who knows? Maybe someone they talk to about their experience will decide to partner with us as well, as a volunteer, or a donor, or a client or a member of our staff. And our work will continue.

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Appendix #3 - CNIB Board Structure - Overview

In order to effectively support leadership volunteers, it helps to have a solid understanding of their mandates. Leadership volunteers play a number of different roles at CNIB, but the most common are board and committee members. We have many such opportunities for people to serve:

  • National board (a governing board, focused on the entire organization across Canada). By "governing", we mean the national board's members have legal liability, are held to fiduciary standards, and have the responsibility to oversee the CEO and approve budgets and strategy. They work most closely with the CEO and executive management team from across the country. The national board is made up of volunteers (a mix of sighted people and those with vision loss) from across Canada, including representatives from the corporate, medical and service sectors.
  • Council of Chairs (advisory in nature). The chairs (or designate) of the national and division boards across the country, make up the Council of Chairs. The Council of Chairs serves as a channel of communication between and amongst the various boards and advises the President and CEO.
  • Division boards (advisory in nature). Each division board of CNIB across the country is responsible for advising on the delivery of client services in a specific geographic area or function, and raising funds to support that service delivery. In Ontario, the division board consists of representatives from the four regional boards (see next bullet), and is focused on the Foundation (our charitable services pillar, as opposed to the Rehab pillar which is funded primarily by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care). The purpose is to share ideas and lessons learned at the regional level.
  • Regional boards such as the four regional boards in Ontario: Western Region, Northern Region, Greater Toronto Area, and Eastern Region (both advisory and operational in nature). These boards are focused on the Foundation, planning and executing initiatives in the community in a hands-on manner.
  • Lake Joseph board (advisory and operational in nature). CNIB owns and operates a camp for people who are blind and partially sighted to be able to enjoy outdoor activities and recreation in a safe environment, designed for their needs and pleasure. This board concentrates solely on developing and promoting CNIB Lake Joseph Centre.
  • Deafblind Services board (advisory in nature). This is our third pillar in Ontario. Currently, Ontario is the primary CNIB division in Canada offering both intervention and literacy services to the Deafblind population. The programs are funded by various provincial ministries.
  • National Youth Council. The National Youth Council provides a voice for youth who are blind, Deafblind, or partially sighted and gives them the opportunity to influence change and increase awareness of issues facing Canadian youth living with vision loss. We act to ensure that current initiatives, new programs and policies are reflective of and responsive to the needs of youth with vision loss.

The boards and councils often have committees that include at least one representative of the board, as well as other leadership volunteers from the community who bring their skills and perspectives on particular topics. Every board and committee has a senior staff member assigned to represent management and another employee who acts in an administrative capacity.

Board Diversity

At CNIB, it is important to us that our boards represent the people we serve – people who are blind or partially sighted. While we do not have a formal quota, it is an issue we consider seriously. For the past few years, between 40 and 45 per cent of the national board members have had vision loss, for instance.

When identifying potential members for all CNIB boards and committees, the main priority is the skills the individual brings to the table. However, we do track vision loss, gender, age, ethnic diversity, and geographic distribution in order to achieve a balanced board membership. We recognize that part of the group's strength comes from the members' varied perspectives as we make decisions.

"Diversity doesn't make decision-making easier, but it makes for better decisions."

- Carol Weisman, board dynamics expert and consultant

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Appendix #4 - CNIB National Board of Directors Terms of Reference

Purpose and Mandate of the Board

As CNIB’s senior governance body, the National Board of Directors (“the Board”) derives its authority and mandate from CNIB’s Charter and Bylaws, and is the legal authority of the corporation responsible for ensuring the organization is soundly managed.

The Board operates at all times with a national perspective, not in the interests of any particular region or constituency.


  • The Board:
    • Ensures that CNIB’s strategic plan is consistent with its mission and mandate
    • Ensures CNIB sets realistic goals and objectives consistent with the strategic plan approved by the Board
    • Manages the hiring, termination, motivation and remuneration of the President and CEO
    • Ensures that CNIB develops governance policies, procedures and resources that are consistent with its goals
    • Monitors progress towards the achievement of CNIB’s goals through the receipt and review of reports from committees and subcommittees and from the President and CEO, as well as through other means the Board may choose to adopt from time to time
    • Has the ultimate responsibility for the assessment of risk to which the organization may be exposed. It relies on its committees of the Board in their detailed review of CNIB’s policies, operations and activities to bring to its attention, any areas of significant risk
    • Establishes a vision, mission and values for CNIB
    • Is accountable, in summary, for ensuring CNIB carries out its mission.
  • Committees:
    • To assist in the performance of its duties, the Board may, from time to time, establish standing or ad-hoc committees and subcommittees as outlined in CNIB’s Bylaws. In so doing, the Board shall also determine terms of reference, membership criteria and reporting structures.

The Board and the CEO

  • The President and CEO reports to the Board. He/she is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the organization
  • It is expected the President and CEO will draw upon the expertise of Directors to assist in meeting his/her responsibilities
  • Individual Directors have no authority to give direction to persons who report directly or indirectly to the President and CEO


  • Directors shall be elected or appointed under the terms of CNIB’s Bylaws.
  • Expectations of Conduct and Participation
    • Directors are expected to attend meetings, be familiar with materials provided, support CNIB’s mission and contribute their expertise and experience to the work of the Board.
    • Directors shall serve on at least one Standing Committee of the Board.
    • Directors shall conduct themselves in an ethical and professional manner at all times.
    • While no specific dollar amount is stated, Directors are expected to provide financial support to the organization, in addition to the time involved in meeting their governance oversight obligations.
  • New Director Orientation
    • New Directors shall receive a thorough introduction to the operations, mission and its strategic direction of the organization. Included in this orientation will be details of CNIB’s structure, current issues facing the Board, staffing levels, financial position, liabilities and assets.
  • Directors’ Indemnity and Insurance
    • Directors shall be indemnified and insured by CNIB in accordance with CNIB’s Charter and Bylaws.
  • Expenses
    • Directors shall not be remunerated by CNIB, but are entitled to reimbursement for expenses incurred in the performance of their duties in conformity with the Expense Guidelines.
  • Conflict of Interest
    • Directors must adhere to CNIB’s Conflict of Interest Policy.


The Board shall undertake biennial assessments of its effectiveness relative to its terms of reference.


Meetings may be held and business conducted either in person or electronically.

  • Regular Meetings
    • Regular meetings shall be called by the Chair giving at least fourteen (14) days written notice, and are customarily held in March, June, September and November.
  • Special Meetings
    • Special meetings shall be called as necessary by the Chair giving at least five (5) days written notice; such notice shall specify the reason(s) for the meeting.
    • A special meeting shall be held immediately following the Annual General Meeting of CNIB for the purpose of appointing the officers of the corporation for the ensuing year.
  • In-Camera Sessions
    • The Board may move to in camera or hold Board meetings that are not open to the public if it determines it is in the best interest of the corporation to do so. Discussions held during In-camera sessions will remain confidential with only decisions being recorded as part of the regular meeting minutes.
  • Quorum
    •  A quorum for regular and special meetings shall be a simple majority of Directors.


Materials for all meetings shall be provided to Directors in advance on a timely basis in an accessible format of their choice. Business shall be conducted only on that basis.

Terms of Reference

These terms of reference shall be reviewed by the Board through the Governance Committee as necessary, but in any case not less than once every three (3) years.

Reviewed and Recommended by the Governance Committee - March 9, 2012

Approved by the National Board of Directors - March 24, 2012

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Appendix #5 - CNIB Ontario Board Terms of Reference

Approved: November 19, 2016


  • To provide a forum for the four regional Board Chairs to meet, share, learn and support one another.
  • To provide leadership, guide and support the mission of CNIB: to ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life.
  • To understand and advocate for Ontario Division priorities; act as regional champions to promote an inclusive society for those who are blind or partially sighted.
  • To support decision making, sharing of best practices and problem solving among the Regional Boards.
  • To guide, inform and monitor the development and successful implementation of the Ontario Division Strategic Plan and budget and provide guidance and assistance to the regions.
  • To facilitate, build and steward relationships with stakeholders, partners, clients and volunteers.
  • To provide a regional and Ontario perspective to the CNIB National Board of Directors and the President and CEO. 


  • The Ontario Board Chair, Vice Chair, or designated member of the Ontario Board will represent Ontario on the Council of Chairs and at planning meetings with the National Board of Directors.
  • CNIB operational direction will be provided by the Ontario Regional Vice President.
  • The Ontario Board will meet a minimum of four times per year.
  • Quorum is 50% of the membership.
  • The Board may develop committees or ad-hoc working groups, as required.
  • The Board Chair may from time to time invite special guests to meet with the Board, including senior members of the Lions Club and the Chair of the Lake Joseph Board.
  • Decisions will primarily be made by consensus; motions will be employed as required.
  • Mechanism for feedback to Board:
    • Background resources/materials will be circulated to Board members a minimum of 10 days prior to meetings, with identified key questions for discussion.
    • Minutes will capture:
      • action items for follow up by management and Board members;
      • feedback on guidance/counsel provided to management in support of key questions/critical issues.
    • Minutes will be distributed within two weeks after the meeting.


  • Membership will be skills-based and reflect equitable language, geographic and client representation, along with the diversity of Ontario communities served.
  • As CNIB volunteers, Board members must complete required screening requirements, and will be provided with an orientation to both CNIB and their role as a Board member.
  • The Ontario Board will comprise the Regional Board Chairs and Vice Chairs. Non-voting staff representatives on the Board will include the Ontario Regional Vice President and the Regional Executive Directors.
  • Members will serve a maximum three-year term to be reviewed annually, to a maximum of two terms. A term will coincide with the CNIB fiscal year from April 1 to March 31.
  • Board Members must be mindful of and involved in successful succession planning.
  • Board members will complete a Board Assessment Survey annually to identify what is working well and what needs to be improved.
  • Board members will select a Chair and a Chair Designate for three-year terms.
  • Board members unable to attend meetings will notify the Chair; those absent for three consecutive meetings without notice will be deemed to have resigned.
  • Board members are expected to contribute financially within their means to the Division.

Role of Chair

  • Represent Ontario Board on the Council of Chairs and at planning meetings of the National Board of Directors.
  • Develop Ontario Board meeting agendas, in conjunction with the Ontario Regional Vice President.
  • Facilitate Ontario Board meetings.
  • Assist in the identification, orientation and mentoring of Ontario Board members.
  • Support and facilitate transparent and two-way communication between Ontario Board and Senior Management.
  • Contribute to the performance evaluation of the Regional Vice-President.

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Appendix #6 - CNIB Ontario Regional Boards (Northern, Eastern, GTA, Western) Terms of Reference

Approved: November 19, 2016


  • To provide leadership, guide and support the mission of CNIB: to ensure all Canadians who are blind or partially sighted have the confidence, skills and opportunity to fully participate in life.
  • To understand and advocate for regional priorities; to act as champions to promote an inclusive society for those who are blind or partially sighted.
  • To monitor and advocate for local client needs and to ensure that client input and feedback is provided on existing and proposed charitable programs to achieve quality assurance and service excellence, with staff guidance.
  • To guide, inform and monitor the development and successful implementation of the regional work plan and budget.
  • To facilitate, build and steward relationships with community stakeholders and partners, including donors, funders, Government, and other service providers within the Region, clients and volunteers.
  • To provide Regional perspective to the CNIB Ontario Board, Ontario Regional Vice President and Senior Management Team.
  • To support and help evaluate the work of the Executive Director and the management team within the region.


  • There will be one Board for each CNIB Region in Ontario.
  • The Chair, Vice Chair or designate of each Regional Board will serve on the Ontario Board.
  • CNIB operational direction will be provided by the Regional Executive Director.
  • The Regional Board will meet a minimum of four times per year.
  • The Regional Executive Director is a non-voting member of the Board.
  • Quorum is 50% of the membership.
  • Every effort will be made to achieve a 20-25% rotation of members annually.
  • The Board may develop committees or ad-hoc working groups, as required.
  • Decisions will primarily be made by consensus; motions will be employed as required.
  • Mechanism for feedback to Board:
    • Background resources/materials will be circulated to Board members a minimum of 10 days prior to meetings, with identified key questions for discussion.
    • Minutes will capture:
      • action items for follow up by management and Board members;
      • feedback on guidance/counsel provided to management in support of key questions/critical issues;
    • Minutes will be distributed within two weeks of the meeting.


  • Membership will be skills-based and reflect equitable language, geographic and client representation, along with the diversity of Ontario communities served.
  • The regional Board will include representation from the community, including organizations such as the Lions.
  • As CNIB volunteers, Board members must complete required screening requirements, and will be provided with an orientation to both CNIB and their role as a Board member
  • The Regional Board will determine the appropriate number of individuals serving on its Board, with a minimum of seven.
  • Members will serve a three-year term to be reviewed annually, to a maximum of two terms. A term will coincide with the CNIB fiscal year from April 1 to March 31.
  • Regional Board members must be mindful of and involved in successful succession planning.
  • Regional Board members will complete a Board Assessment Survey annually to identify what is working well and what needs to be improved.
  • Regional Board members will select a Chair and Vice Chair for three-year terms.
  • Board members unable to attend meetings will notify the Chair; those absent for three consecutive meetings without notice will be deemed to have resigned.
  • Board members are expected to contribute financially and assist in divisional fundraising efforts within their means.

Role of Chair

  • Represent Regional Board on Ontario Board.
  • Develop Regional Board meeting agendas, in conjunction with the Regional Executive Director.
  • Facilitate Regional Board meetings.
  • Assist in the identification, orientation and mentoring of Board members.
  • Support and enable transparent and two-way communication between Regional Board, Ontario Board and Senior Management.
  • Contribute to the performance evaluation of the Regional Executive Director.

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Appendix #7 - CNIB's Philosophy of Fundraising and Philanthropy

The terms "fundraising" and "philanthropy" are often used interchangeably, but they are actually not the same.

Philanthropy is a desire to do good with one's money – it is a motivating force.

Fundraising is the act of raising money, but philanthropy is the motivation that drives donors' decisions to invest.

At CNIB, we do both. We provide people with the opportunity to donate through our fundraising efforts. We also work closely with individuals to help them discover the motivation to invest and to match them to the right programs to meet their needs.

Giving Feels Good!
People give for as many reasons as there are people, but for everyone, there needs to be some sort of benefit. It could be as simple as feeling good about yourself for having helped someone else. Many studies show that people who give without an expectation of a reward are more satisfied with their lives than people who expect payment for their efforts.

Investment in the community
When money donors choose to give to an organization such as CNIB, we must remember that they are making an investment in the community – not solely in CNIB. In that case, each donor is an investor and should be treated as one. Just think about all the research an investor does before deciding on a stock, and the amount of feedback an investor receives about the performance of their investment. Like an investor, the donor needs to see a return on the investment, but in the case of philanthropy, that is measured in outcomes and impact – improvements to the quality of life of the people we serve.

When CNIB raises funds, it is important to remember:
  • The gift is not to CNIB; the gift goes through CNIB to the people we serve. CNIB is the connection or the conduit to the community where the gift is needed.
  • Saying CNIB needs the funds doesn't work. Donors care that the needs of the people we serve are being met – that the work we do creates positive and important results in the community.
The process: values, causes, stories and partnerships
There are so many organizations that try to raise funds. Donors have lots to choose from and we all compete for their attention. At CNIB, we know that people tend to donate to organizations whose values they share.

How do donors choose? It works the same way for individuals and organizations. They need to find the right cause – something that fits with their values. For the process to begin, the cause needs to be clearly stated so that it resonates with people (or organizations) whose values make them receptive.

How do we communicate our values and our cause? We communicate our cause most effectively when we tell the personal stories of the people we serve and the people who give. The stories we share capture the hearts and minds of the people who engage with us, making them want to become characters in the story. Our job is to give them a role in the story and a chance to improve the story's outcome.

Because we are in a partnership with our donors (just as with our volunteers), we understand there is an expectation of dialogue and feedback. We fulfill this by showing donors how their role has changed the story for the better and by offering opportunities for them to do more. We recognize that it isn't about the amount of money – it is about what the money does.
  • We believe that all the people we encounter should be considered as possible partners in giving to the cause – whether they are people in the community, representatives of organizations, volunteers, staff or even clients.
  • We feel proud, not apologetic, when asking – whether it is for money or time or services donated in kind.
  • We believe that we present opportunities, not obligations. We recognize people have a need to give – and we can fulfill their need.
  • We believe in establishing long-term relationships with donors.
  • We understand that people who give need to know the impact of their gifts.
  • We say thank you. Anyone who gives us a gift – whether small or large – will be thanked.
  • We follow the Code of Ethical Standards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals
"We need to make sure … organizations see that money donors and time donors are closely intertwined – and that people move in and out of both roles over a lifetime."

- Susan Ellis, Volunteerism expert

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