Many things differentiate nonprofit organizations from one another. If you’ve seen one nonprofit organization, you’ve seen one nonprofit organization. Some of them are startups, and many of them have been around for decades. Each nonprofit organization has a flavor and culture of its own. In addition to assessing whether you have the time and money to dedicate to nonprofit service, it’s also important to choose the right board of directors to serve alongside. The right board is one where you gain as much from it as you give to it.
Serving on a nonprofit board of directors requires a servant-leader mentality. For many people, it’s a chance to give back to an organization that helped them or their families. While you may have a passion and personal connection with a nonprofit, it may not be a good fit in other ways. Before making a final decision to accept being a board member nominee, here are some things to consider.
How Do You See Yourself Within the Organization?
When considering serving on a board of directors, you’ll need to factor in the time commitment. The time that you dedicate to board service won’t be as much of a factor when you have a passion for the board’s mission because it won’t feel like work.
Read the organization’s mission, vision and values statements. Do you think the organization currently lives up to them? Ask yourself whether you believe in the mission as stated, and whether you could envision yourself advocating publicly for the cause.
Perhaps you have your own dreams and aspirations for the organization. If so, you’ll want to connect with current board members and start some discussions about whether your goals are in line with those of the rest of the board. You may be just the person who will be able to take them to the next level. Initial conversations will also give you a hint about whether you would be a good fit with the other board members.
Understanding the Time Commitment for Nonprofit Board Service
People who are generous by nature tend to be good candidates for nonprofit board service. Generosity is an attractive quality, and being generous on a nonprofit board also relates to your willingness to donate much of your time and a little of your money to the organization.
Many people incorrectly assume that serving on a nonprofit board means showing up for the occasional board meeting, only to find that there are several other time considerations. Nonprofit boards of directors set their own schedules for how often they meet, which can be quarterly, bi-monthly or monthly. Board service also usually means dedicating some of your time outside of board meetings.
Add your travel time to the time that you allot for board meetings so that you can decide if the location of the meetings will be a factor in your attendance. Many boards are taking advantage of technology and allowing board members to attend by teleconference or videoconference to alleviate some of the time constraints for board members, who serve as volunteers. It may help to find out if attending meetings virtually is a possibility.
Board members usually serve on at least one committee. Find out what committees currently exist. Get a sense for which committees need your skills and expertise and which you would enjoy serving on.
It’s wise to learn how many fundraisers the organization typically arranges and what their expectations for board members are.
If you’ve determined that you have the time and want to serve in this capacity, the next thing to consider is whether you see yourself participating enthusiastically for the length of your term. Board terms may be from two to six years, and board members may be reappointed for consecutive terms.
Board service becomes one of your extracurricular activities, so the time commitment that it demands usually requires placing some of your other personal interests in the background for the required term of service.
Nonprofit board members are usually social people who are willing to contact friends, family members and business associates to educate them about the cause and generate a sense of excitement about it that ultimately leads to donations. If this is outside of your comfort zone, board service may not be your cup of tea.
Assessing Your Skillset for Nonprofit Board Service
Boards of directors need a balanced skillset around the board table. What skills and abilities can you bring to a nonprofit board? Perhaps you are a local business owner with expertise in finance, law, business, public relations, communications, marketing or some other valuable competence. A nonprofit board may be happy to have you accept a nomination to join them, but your expertise won’t matter as much if it’s the same as that of several others on the board. If the board doesn’t really need your knowledge and skills, it’s best to decline the nomination. An exception is if one or more of those experts have upcoming expiring terms and you can fill the gap.
Nonprofit boards provide an excellent opportunity to gain experience by serving as an officer. While you may initially accept a nomination for a board member-at-large position, at some point, the board may ask you to serve as President, Vice-President, Secretary or Treasurer.
Nonprofit Board Experience Is Valuable
Most people contribute to nonprofit organizations because of what they can offer them. The reality is that people who serve on nonprofit boards of directors usually receive as much as, or more than, they give.
Showing service to a nonprofit board will surely enhance your resume. It shows prospective employers that you’re motivated to invest in activities that you are passionate about without financial compensation.
Board service will help you expand your social and professional networks, which could advance your career or lead to other employment opportunities. If the organization hires employees, your service could even land you a paid position within the organization.
Besides enhancing your resume and opening up new job opportunities, nonprofit board involvement helps you develop new skills and abilities. Many boards encourage board members to learn more about board development by taking workshops or classes about nonprofit board issues.
If you enjoy public speaking, serving on the board will give you many formal and informal opportunities to tell others about the good work that you are doing through the organization.
You may also find another board member who is willing to mentor you for the first year of your term. Such close relationships can foster personal and professional growth.
Finally, many people find that serving on a nonprofit board of directors is a viable way to give back or pay it forward to an organization that gave them personal meaning. Those may be some of the best reasons for serving on a board of directors when everything else checks all the boxes.