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How to Join a Nonprofit Board

by Bill Weber

Posted October 8, 2018

Serving on a nonprofit board can be a rewarding experience for a myriad of personal and professional reasons.  It offers the chance to positively effect change and contribute to the growth of an organization whose mission you care very much about. It also provides a unique environment to meet and network with seasoned industry leaders, which can often lead to career advancement opportunities.  

Aware of these benefits, a marketing professional recently asked me how she might go about finding a board to join that would provide personal fulfillment and might advance her career in some way, too.

So, how should you start your board position search? Here are a few suggestions I shared with her:

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Begin by mapping out a dozen or so nonprofits you would like to join based on:

  • Mission: What do you care deeply about?
  • Connections: Do you know individuals involved with the organization who might provide an access point?
  • Location: Is the location of the organization convenient–allowing you to actively participate? Or is working remotely with an institution more appealing?
  • Skills: What skills/expertise will you bring to the organization?
  • Responsibilities: Would you prefer to be part of an advisory board or a fiduciary board?
  • Motivation: What other factors will inspire your active participation?

You can create the list by asking friends, exploring LinkedIn, or using research resources, such as Guidestar or Charity Navigator.

BE CHOOSEY

There are more than a million US nonprofits with a budget of more than $1,000,000. If in doubt, narrow to:

  • Sector: Such as health, education, environment, human services, or the arts
  • Proximity: Why not be close to the action?
  • Reputation: Be sure the organization is well managed
  • Impact: Is the organization fulfilling its mission?

PROMOTE YOURSELF

Don’t be modest! Update your LinkedIn profile to include volunteer experience, as well as relevant professional skills and experience. Be sure to indicate on your profile that you are interested in joining a board.  

GET INVOLVED

Once you have identified an organization of interest the best way to determine fit is to get involved.  Almost all nonprofits have some opportunity for engagement. The majority of board member start out as volunteers. Consider joining a committee, attending an event, or volunteering your services.  All of these activities demonstrate sincere interest and additionally, allow you to:

  • Test the waters: Gain an understanding of the board members and expectations
  • Exceed expectations: Showcase your passion and talents and why you would be a valuable contributor as a member of the board

GET CONNECTED

Reach out to those who may be able to assist you in your board position search, including:

  • The Nominating Committee: Even if there are no open seats at the moment, all good boards want a pipeline of potential board members candidates, and the nominating committee oversees the board selection process
  • Ex-Board Members: Ex-board members may still have a close connection to the board, and even if they don’t, they can provide you with insight into the culture of the organization and expectations of the board.
  • Friends and Colleagues: You won’t know who has a connection to whom until you ask around! Friends and colleagues can make introductions and referrals.

Of course, this is just a start and there is much more to do in securing a board position, from checking out bylaws to reviewing their financials (should the board have fiduciary responsibility). I welcome your suggestions and questions and would like to hear about the successes and obstacles you have faced in your journey to joining a board. Please write to me at wweber@developmentguild.com.

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