Nonprofit boards recruit board members intending to choose the best candidates to lead the organization, but have you considered what serving on a nonprofit board can do for you? The experience of serving on a nonprofit board is valuable in many ways. As you accept your seat in the boardroom, you might ask yourself how you can get the most out of being a nonprofit board member to make your board service count from the first day of your board term to the last.
We’ll provide tips for choosing the right nonprofit to improve your skills and put your talents to work. It begins with choosing the right nonprofit organization to serve as a board member.
How to Choose the Right Nonprofit
It’s flattering to be asked to serve on a nonprofit board of directors. That said, you want your board journey to be a successful one. Just because a board recruitment committee thinks you will be a good fit doesn’t mean the organization is a good fit for you.
You first need to consider whether you are passionate about the cause. If you have all the right qualities and leadership characteristics for an animal rescue nonprofit but don’t own any pets and aren’t crazy about animals, it’s not the best fit.
Nonprofit board service should also align with your values. For example, a different group may be more suitable if you feel passionate about diversity and inclusion, but the nonprofit has no interest in forming a diverse board.
Don’t feel like you need to accept the first position that comes your way. Many nonprofits are always looking for board members, and you’re sure to find a fit among them.
“You need to manage your time. Look closely at the commitments — you want to make a meaningful contribution, you want to be an active, engaged board member and those time mandates can vary greatly, so you want to find something that really fits with your lifestyle and availability. You want to understand the time commitment so you can really bring value to the organization.” Justin Cruz YWCA Madison board member
Ask for copies of the organization’s bylaws, written policies, meeting minutes, financial data, and annual reports. Do they offer a manual or handbook for board members? These documents will give you a sense of how organized the board is and how well they run things. Along these lines, ask about the nonprofit’s compliance protocols. What are the regulations, and how do they ensure they abide by them? A very organized board will also be using a board management system.
For your protection, also be sure they have D&O insurance. If not, seek an opportunity to serve on a nonprofit that carries it or make it a condition of joining the board.
Get to know the current board members by setting up short visits or lunch appointments. You might even be able to sit in on a board meeting or two to assess the dynamics.
One of the best ways to assess your fit is to volunteer, serve on a committee, or join a Young Professionals board. These opportunities will put you on pace to dig right in if you accept a board position.
Know Your Responsibilities and Strive to Fulfill Them
A board seat comes with many nonprofit board responsibilities, and each one presents opportunities for you to highlight your skills and gain experience.
One of the most significant areas board members struggle with is time—board service demands time for board meetings, committee meetings, volunteering, and events. Except for your full-time job and your family, be sure to give your board service a priority over other activities.
Know what the expectation for your time commitment is before you accept a board position. You may have to juggle your schedule around to fulfill all your duties. Remember, board terms are usually limited, so your schedule won’t be overloaded forever, and you will be rewarded for your time in other ways.
A crucial part of board member duties is understanding your fiduciary duties, which include the duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience. Demonstrate a commitment to these duties even if you don’t see it in other board members. Fiduciary duties are a central part of good governance.
The board likely considered your reputation and character qualities when you entered the recruitment pool. Hopefully, you are committed to improving your character as you progress through life. You will face many challenges, problems, and achievements through your board service. Your experiences as a board member will continually give you new opportunities to improve your character qualities such as humility, integrity, honesty, and authenticity. Improvements in your character will serve you well in your career and life well into the future.
Finally, always be aware that you are the face of your nonprofit as a board member. Maintain a solid commitment to the cause. Be mindful that your community and the stakeholders are watching you in public and possibly in private. A misstep could result in the betrayal of the public trust, and that will reflect on your nonprofit.
Leverage Your Talents to the Maximum
As a board member, you have opportunities to let your skills and talents shine. Don’t waste them!
What do you bring to the table? Offer to put your skills to work at the first board meeting. Were you recruited because you have expertise in a certain area? Offer to use it to help the board.
Were you chosen because you have sound judgment, no fear of asking hard questions, the ability to earn trust quickly, or emotional intelligence? Your first board meeting is not too soon to display these qualities.
Nonprofit boards face a host of financial and operational challenges. Put your problem-solving skills to work. Dig in and work with other board members to start solving them.
One of the benefits of having a diverse board is each board member brings in new networking opportunities. As a board member, your personal and professional network allows you to expand the awareness of the nonprofit’s cause and the excellent work it does within your community.
Outside of board service, continually educate yourself in areas related to your cause, current events, nonprofit services, and best practices for governance.
In summary, the time spent serving on a nonprofit board will surely go quickly. Be flexible, agile, and available for however long it lasts. You won’t be compensated for your time, but the rewards will last a lifetime.