I have served as a board member/trustee on many nonprofit boards throughout my career. I currently sit on the Board of Rocky Mountain PBS but have served as a board member of the Colorado Symphony, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the National Sports Center for the Disabled and many more. I’ve met amazing people and developed life-long friendships serving on the boards of nonprofits. I’ve helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars as a board member of nonprofits and have also used my professional skills and expertise to help nonprofits through critical challenges as well as to progress their mission.
Many professionals throughout our community volunteer their time and expertise by serving on the board of directors for a nonprofit organization. These meaningful volunteer positions can expose you to a variety of professional networks and provide you with an opportunity to use your professional skills to help advise and guide a nonprofit organization that is serving a cause you care about.
And while serving on a nonprofit board does enrich your resume and expands your reach of networks you shouldn’t join a board just for those reasons. Volunteering for a board is hard work and first and foremost requires that you bring a sincere passion for the mission of the organization and are willing to contribute your time and energy for board activities.
As a board member, you gain valuable experience in a variety of ways:
You learn how to fund-raise. Yes, this is a very typical role of a nonprofit board member and while you might not consider fundraising in your ‘comfort zone’, serving on a nonprofit board helps you to gain expertise and skills in raising money and asking for contributions for an important cause. Believe me, this is a really, really helpful skill to have throughout your professional life.
You learn patience and appreciation for nonprofits. Many nonprofits are grassroots organizations that don’t have the typical resources you might expect of a large corporation. Saying that, I’m always appreciative at how much nonprofits do with so little and the various and diverse roles the staff of a nonprofit must fulfill. Your valuable contribution of skills and expertise as a board member are appreciate and helpful.
You learn how to manage meetings, have impactful discussions and make decisions outside of work. I’m always appreciative of how much I learn from fellow board members. While they don’t work for or with me in my professional life, the professional and personal backgrounds they bring to the board are incredibly rich with experience, wisdom and expertise.
As you consider serving on a board of directors for a nonprofit organization, here are a variety of things to consider.
What is a Board of Directors? The board of directors is the governing body of a nonprofit. Individuals who sit on the board are responsible for overseeing the organization’s activities and meet periodically to discuss and vote on the affairs of the organization. Board members don’t manage the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit, but they offer valuable and expert advice and guidance to the nonprofit leadership and staff. In addition, the board approves nonprofit budgets, hires the executive director as well as approve the overall vision, mission and goals for the nonprofit.
At a minimum, an annual meeting must occur with all board members present. Additional meetings are likely to take place throughout the year so board members can discuss and make other necessary decisions and often, specialized committees are established which typically meet between full board meetings. Board memberships are not set up to be permanent positions; most organizations have terms set up for board members, which typically fall between two and five years.
How do you become a board member of a nonprofit?
There are more than 20,000 registered nonprofits throughout the state of Colorado. Nonprofits range from large, medium and small organizations but no matter the size, they all try to find board members who share a passion for their mission. Whether it be education, animal welfare, arts and music, healthcare or a variety of other important missions, nonprofits provide important community services to millions of people.
The Colorado Nonprofit Association is a terrific resource to get started in terms of researching and discovering Colorado nonprofits that interest you. I also encourage you to find out what types of nonprofits your company supports. If your company has a community relations department, ask them about the variety of community nonprofits your company is involved in.
Meet with the Executive Director, the Board Chair and other Board Members. A good way to gauge whether a particular nonprofit is a fit for you is to meet with current board members and the Executive Director of the nonprofit. A strong Executive Director is committed to finding the best board members who can best serve the organization. They are organized and very intentional about their expectations and the roles the Board will serve in helping the nonprofit. In addition, the Board Chair, as the leader of the Board, should also be very clear about your role and expectations as a board member. Be prepared to ask specific questions and don’t be afraid to ask about the financial stability of the organization, the management structure and the challenges facing the nonprofit.
Is the nonprofit something you are passionate about? You will be contributing your time, energy, expertise and probably finances to the nonprofit you serve. Make sure before you commit to serving on the board that it is a nonprofit that is addressing an issue you are passionate about and that you are willing to commit to.
What is the time commitment? It varies, but entire board of directors typically meet either monthly or quarterly and sometimes have annual planning retreats. In addition, board members are asked to serve on specialized committees of the board and, depending on your role on the board, you might be called upon to commit more time to board duties. Can you participate via conference call in lieu of being at a meeting?
Is there a ‘give/get’ required of the Board? Nonprofits typically turn to the board members to assist in their fundraising. Many nonprofits require a commitment from board members to either donate money, to help raise money or both. Throughout the year, most nonprofits pursue a variety of fundraising events. Through your networks, your assistance in helping to secure event sponsorships, table purchases or other fundraising ‘asks’ may be required of you.
What is the particular area of expertise that you can best serve the board? When being interviewed for a board or researching a nonprofit, determine where your specific skills (finance, public relations, event management, etc.) can fit to help the nonprofit and set expectations for yourself in terms of the role you want to play as a board member.
Serving on a board for a nonprofit can be tremendously rewarding. You want your experience as a board member to be fulfilling and worthwhile to both yourself and the nonprofit organization. While it is not a full-time commitment, you must be dedicated to your role as a board member and be willing to carve out time to commit to your board activities.