Since my early days in corporate America working with Fortune 500 firms, I have been involved in the world of non-profit organizations as a volunteer. I’ve been a member and served on numerous committees and boards. My career eventually led me to work for several non-profit organizations. As an employee, I not only worked directly with executive directors and board members, I was also actively engaged in developing boards and recruiting board members.
I have seen it all.
The passionate, but misaligned. The resume filler. The perpetually too busy to meaningfully contribute. Just to name a few.
Along the way, I’ve also worked with and recruited highly intelligent, competent, committed and dedicated individuals who are in “the right seat on the bus”.
What’s to come.
I’m writing a series of articles to help you become one of the latter types of board members – ones who willingly give their time, talent, and treasure to the organizations they serve; and to help non-profits get the right board members on their team – the ones who selflessly work on the governance and fundraising side of the organization, enabling the staff to focus on the mission.
There is an art and a science to joining a non-profit board. The process is a combination of intelligent due diligence and gut-check introspection.
Before we begin, let’s talk about why you want to join a non-profit board. You’ve heard it’s a great way to network. And, that’s true. The ultimate satisfaction you’ll get from joining a board is to give back, to satisfy a philanthropic need you have inside.
People on non-profit boards give:
Boards are made up of a variety of people from a variety of industries and disciplines. They may include: accountants, attorneys, bankers, human resources, insurance, marketing/PR, public officials, realtors, subject matter experts, and more. Regardless of their role, the best board members are also well prepared. In addition to attending meetings, they spend time preparing for the meeting. This is not about getting credit just for showing up. It’s about giving back.
Once you’ve decided to join a non-profit board, the first step is to decide what’s important to you. There are non-profit organizations dedicated to virtually every topic under the sun. Are you more interested in the Arts? Children? Animals? Education? Hunger? Or other Basic Needs?
Then you need to decide about size and geography. Are you interested in a local, national, or international organization?
Once you understand where your topical interest lies and the scope of the organization you’re interested in, you need to drill down into the sub-categories. Let’s say that you’ve decided that you’re interested in providing your time, talent and treasure to support an organization dedicated to education. What area of education would you like to focus on? The choices are many – adult literacy, pre-kindergarten special needs kids, education of homeless youth, college for all, English as a second language, and more. This is only a partial list!
For you to be effective on a non-profit board (and that’s why you’re doing it, right?), you need to be passionate about the cause you are committing to support. Make no mistake, you will be supporting the organization. Non-profits need to focus the resources they have on succeeding at their mission. They rely on their board to bring their business acumen (talent) to the table and provide the governance and fundraising (time & talent) the organization needs to succeed.
It is vital that you make the right selection for you. Only when you’ve done that will the non-profit have the best board possible.
If you don’t make the right choice you may become one of the wrong types of board members. Early in my career it happened to me. I decided I was interested in the Arts. Without a lot of forethought, I joined the board of an organization focused on providing live entertainment. After attending a few monthly board meetings, I was asking myself, “What am I doing here?!?” At the next board meeting the annual calendar was an agenda item. A quite heated discussion ensued. It became my last straw. Deciding (or rather arguing) about whether we should run “The Lion King” or a one-woman show was not how I wanted to invest my time. Their mission had sounded like fun, but it turned out that I just wasn’t passionate about it. I hadn’t done my homework.
At a minimum, as a board member you will be committing to attending monthly board meetings and some level of financial support. Typically, these are unpaid positions. (There are some exceptions, but they are rare.) It’s important for everyone that you select an area of interest that is right for you.
Give it some thought. If you have thoughts or questions, please comment below or email me here.
My next article in this series will focus on finding the right non-profit organization board for you to join.
About the Author
Since joining Valtas, Jacki continues to contribute to the non-profit community through her legendary network, enabling her to connect non-profit organizations to the right resources. She holds several non-profit board positions in support of her non-profit passion for Basic Needs.
Connect with Jacki here >
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