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A Beginner’s Guide To Nonprofit Board Membership
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A beginner’s guide to nonprofit board membership


Amanda had just been appointed to a nonprofit arts organization that brings performing arts programs to elementary schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The owner of a successful dance studio, Amanda was excited to be part of the organization because she believed in its mission and was passionate about dance and the performing arts.

Amanda had never served on a volunteer or nonprofit board — or any type of board. She was eager to find out more about her role and responsibilities, but — as the saying goes — she didn’t know what she didn’t know.

The pandemic spurred a wave of volunteerism, and many people were looking for ways to improve their community and society. Mission-driven nonprofit organizations are fueled by volunteers and volunteer board members, and they offer a way for people to make a difference and work toward a goal they believe in.

Nonprofit and charitable organizations also experienced shifts because of the pandemic. They face financial pressures, additional legislative or regulatory mandates, data security worries and increased public scrutiny. New board members need to be prepared to successfully navigate these changes. Effective board members can significantly influence the success of the nonprofit.

Many newly appointed nonprofit board members are in the same boat as Amanda. They are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work, but before their first meeting, they must have a basic understanding of how nonprofit boards work. Volunteer board members come from different backgrounds and have varied skills and approaches that will help their organizations fulfill their missions. However, they may know little or nothing about the intricacies of board service.

Organizations usually offer onboarding and training for their board members, but new members can make a lasting positive impression by reaching out first to introduce themselves and to familiarize themselves with the board’s mission, vision and goals. Access to board management software allows new board members to read previous meeting minutes, planning agendas, budgets and other documents that will help them get up to speed during their first few board meetings.

Understanding the elements of board service

The most important thing new board members need to know is that nonprofit board members have a fiduciary responsibility to their organization. This means that board members have a legal and ethical responsibility to act solely in the best interest of the organization. That responsibility informs all other board actions. This responsibility is legally binding, so it’s important for board members to take it seriously and find out exactly what it means for them individually and as part of the board.

Conflicts of interest and ethics violations can damage the reputation of the organization. Board members must learn in their first weeks of service about the organization’s ethical rules and what constitutes conflict of interest. Conflict of interest could include voting to hire relatives to the organization or approving a contract that benefits the board member financially or otherwise. Some ethical dilemmas are more obvious than others, so information is the best way to protect the board and the organization.

Part of the board’s fiduciary responsibility encompasses financial oversight of the organization. New board members should be financially literate, so they can approve budgets, understand financial reporting, and spearhead fundraising efforts. The board administrator or board president can suggest training resources if new members need some support in these areas.

Typical duties for board members will vary depending on the organization. Generally, board members are expected to attend monthly or bimonthly meetings. Some boards have committees that meet outside of the regular meetings to do their work. They must ensure that they are well prepared for meetings by reading the board materials before the meetings, including the agenda, meeting minutes and reports, and other information. Being prepared for meetings means that all board members are on the same page and ready to contribute when the meeting begins.

Funding is always a major concern of nonprofits. Many nonprofit board members are expected to help raise money for the organization. This expectation often takes the form of personal donations. Board members demonstrate to potential donors and funders that they care about the future of the organization enough to invest in it. A blog post by the Gail Perry Group asks, “If board members (who hold the legal responsibility) don’t support the nonprofit financially, then why should anyone else?”

Another way board members help bring in money is through introductions and connections. They will make phone calls, write emails and letters, and have in-person meetings with influential community members, business owners and philanthropists. They also can talk about the organization informally at community and social events, and formally at speaking engagements with larger groups.

Connections are essential to board service. Board members who build and maintain professional connections with potential funders and partners in the nonprofit world help the organization grow and flourish. Those connections also help board members grow personally and professionally.

Finally, nonprofits are increasingly vulnerable to ransomware viruses, data breaches and other forms of cyberattack. To avoid putting the organization at risk, new board members must quickly familiarize themselves with the organization’s email security and online safety protocols. If you feel you need to upskill then there are courses available such as the Diligent Institute Cyber Risk & Strategy Certification.

Technology offers support for new board members

Learning the ins and outs of nonprofit board service can seem like a daunting task for newcomers. However, the more new board members know about their board roles and responsibilities, the faster they can become effective team mates and governance partners.

To do so, new board members need easily accessible and well-organized information. A good first step is to receive training on how to use the organization’s board management software. BoardEffect features a resource library that stores essential information, documentation, policies and procedures, meeting minutes, schedules, agendas and other items to inform new members. Keyword search capabilities grant board members instant access to information from any device at any time, preparing them for their new responsibilities.

Healthy boards need informed members

A highly engaged and motivated board is essential for a healthy and successful nonprofit organization. Board management software such as BoardEffect supports new board members in learning how to prepare well for meetings, collaborate on projects and propel the organization towards achieving its mission.

Most organizations offer orientation and onboarding activities and programs for new board members. This training is essential to preparing new members to serve on their boards. Orientation is a way to introduce new members to their new board colleagues, and they can learn about the customs, procedures and requirements of their new roles.

BoardEffect is designed with the unique needs of volunteer boards in mind. Our nonprofit board management software streamlines board processes, and enhances and delivers secure communication, helping your organization to be efficient and effective and helping board members to serve effectively. Request a demo today.


BoardEffect, as a Diligent brand, helps to serve more than 14,000 mission-driven organizations globally.

Ed Rees

Ed is a seasoned professional with over 12 years of experience in the Governance space, where he has collaborated with a diverse range of organizations. His passion lies in empowering these entities to optimize their operations through the strategic integration of technology, particularly in the realms of Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC).

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