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Volunteering on a board

Taking a leadership role in a nonprofit

Becoming a board member can help you learn new skills, gain new perspectives, learn how a nonprofit organization is run and grow your network of contacts — all while contributing to a cause you care about.

 

Take the quiz

What percentage of today's nonprofit board members are under 40 years old?

You're right.

Boards with larger portions of members younger than the age of 40 were more likely to enjoy board member involvement, ask others for donations, have clear fundraising expectations, and provide more potential contacts.

Not quite. It’s 17%.

Boards with larger portions of members younger than the age of 40 were more likely to enjoy board member involvement, ask others for donations, have clear fundraising expectations, and provide more potential contacts.

A natural next step

Many people naturally progress from donating, to volunteering, to leading.

Donor
You may have started by donating money or items to a local clothing or food drive.

Volunteer
Your involvement in one or more charities may have morphed into volunteering your time, skills or fundraising.

Leader
You may be ready to get involved with the leadership by joining its board of directors and helping with strategy and policy.

What's involved?

Board membership usually comes with an expectation of giving time, talent and treasure.

Time
Find out how often the board meets — and for how long — and what additional time is expected for events or committees.

Talent
Your ability to contribute unique and needed skills will make you feel effective and fulfilled as well as benefit the organization the most.

Treasure
Board members are often given a fundraising goal and are expected to either personally contribute that amount or raise the funds from others. Are you comfortable with the expected financial commitment?

Find your ideal organization

There are many ways to contribute. But first things first, put yourself out there.

  • Update your LinkedIn profile to show your interest in joining a board
  • Network and express your interest to family, friends and colleagues
  • Reach out to organizations you are already a member of (or interested in)

 

Online research

You'll also want to do some research to find the right organization. Fortunately, there are some great resources.

Questions to ask potential organizations

Before you join a board, you should learn all you can about the organization.

 

Intent

What is the role of the board?

Frequency

How often does the board meet?

Fundraising

Will I be expected to raise money? How much?

Responsibilities

Is there a description of board member responsibilities?

Selection process

How are new directors chosen?

Training

Does the organization provide orientation to new directors?

Visit

Can you attend a board meeting as a guest?

Getting to "yes"

There are many things you should think through before joining a board. Start by examining your reasons for becoming more involved, consider what you can bring and what your commitment will be. Don't rush — it may take some time and effort on your part to find a board position that's a good fit for you.

Once you've identified a potential opportunity, ask yourself some basic questions:

  • Does the organization represent your values?
  • Does it contribute to the world in the way that you want to?
  • Is the work of the organization interesting to you?
  • Do you have skills and resources that will benefit the organization?
 

Weighing the risks

You have a lot at stake: your career, your family, your reputation. You need to know what might happen should something go wrong related to the nonprofit.

  • Ask what policies and procedures are in place to protect board members.
  • Ask about insurance and any board member liability.

You may decide to join the organization even without insurance but you need to know whether it’s in place.

And, of course, consider your situation:

  • Might there be something personal, professional or occupational that could restrain your ability to be an effective board member?
  • Does your profession or employer create any conflicts of interest that may affect your board service?

Serving on a nonprofit board could be the most satisfying and productive work of your life. Make sure you find the right match.

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