Becoming a nonprofit board member: everything you need to know to succeed

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A nonprofit board is a group of experts who come together to provide guidance to the organization in different areas. There are many kinds of boards, with the most common being governance boards and advisory boards.

The governance board provides strategic direction and assists or leads the organization’s planning, while the advisory board provides advice but has no say in the final decisions the nonprofit’s leadership team makes.

The type of nonprofit board determines its overall purpose and duration. A seat at a governance board is often long-term and requires involvement in areas like budgets, fundraising, and program development. On the other hand, the most successful advisory boards come together with a specific objective in mind, so their scope is more limited, although not necessarily short-term.

Board members volunteer their time, resources and expertise to advance the organization’s mission, help it reach a broader audience and fulfill its promises, ultimately being an essential element of the success of any nonprofit.

In this blog, we’re breaking down the benefits of becoming a board member and what you’ll need to keep in mind to serve as a nonprofit board member.

Nonprofit board member responsibilities

As a board member, you’ll be tasked with different responsibilities based on the type of board you join. A board of directors, for example, has three primary legal duties known as duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience.

Other than these, board members commit their time and a share of their resources to the organization. You may be expected to make a tax-deductible contribution, attend regular (yearly or otherwise) in-person events, and probably more frequent (often monthly) virtual meetings.

Other duties will vary based on your expertise and the purpose of the board. You may be tasked with raising money, planning and running events, and developing or optimizing the programming, for example.

How to become a board member

Select a cause

You’ve made the decision to serve as a nonprofit board member. Now what? Finding a board seat is easier than you probably think.

To start, reflect on the causes you’d like to contribute to and find nonprofits that are working in those spaces. The school or university you attended could be a good place to start.

You can also check your network, both personal and professional. Are there past colleagues working in the nonprofit sector you could reach out to?

If you don’t have any connections who could point you in the right direction, there are pages like BoardnetUSA, Volunteermatch and Idealist where you can search for openings.

Decide what you want to contribute

Nonprofit boards are in need of expertise. In order to maximize your contributions, think about your talents and expertise — and offer those. Professionals in areas like legal, financial, or planning services are critical for the nonprofit’s success.

Reach out

Once you’ve found good potential fits to become a board member, it’s time to begin the application and/or interview process. You’ll want to express your interest and will likely go through an interview phase with the CEO or board president.

This process may be different from a regular job interview because the nonprofit world is unique. Still, you want to present your best self and show up to the meetings having researched the organization and taken note of the questions you feel will help you understand your potential new role.

Align your expectations

You’ll be expected to fill in certain requirements as a board member. So just like any job, you’ll want to ensure that you’re reasonably able to fulfill the nonprofit’s needs.

Consider the following as you apply or interview for different roles:

  • Term length: How long are you committed to serve on this board?
  • Ongoing commitments: Will you attend regular board meetings? Be expected to travel frequently? If so, are you responsible for your transportation and lodging? Are board members held to specific donations?
  • Obligations: Are you advising or implementing? What are your individual contributions to the board? Do you have legal protection?

Begin your tenure

Once all is said and done, you found a great match and are ready to serve, it’s time to get started. You’ll receive a formal invitation to join the board and go through the onboarding process. You’ll be asked to sign what’s known as a nonprofit board member agreement, which outlines your obligations, such as attending a set number of meetings and your expected functions.

You’ll likely jump right in to meet fellow board members and join meetings to get a sense of where they are and what they’re working on before you begin pitching in.

Use this time to build a relationship and start contributing your experience to the cause. Then, dive in and get to work on your board’s purpose.

Being a board member has countless benefits

Serving as a board member has many benefits both personally and professionally. On the personal side, you’ll gain a sense of belonging, increase your social interaction, and find a meaningful purpose. Some studies also show physical and mental health benefits of volunteering, like increased physical activity, which is great for overall health, and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

On the professional side, being a board member is a powerful connector that expands your network and broadens your resumé and skills. And it can aid your career transition if you’re hoping to go from the private sector to nonprofit work.

Likewise, the nonprofit board is essential for any organization to realize its mission. Board members provide priceless expertise, hands-on experience, and well-meaning advice to develop and implement successful projects, achieve financial objectives, and make a positive impact in the communities the nonprofit works with.

Is your organization preparing to assemble a new board? Book a consultation with us to learn more about the considerations you’ll need to make when recruiting new board members to maximize your chances of success.

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