Each year, millions of individuals dedicate their time and expertise to shape the future of nonprofit organizations when they serve on a board. Board members provide critical intellectual capital and strategic resources to power nonprofit success and strengthen communities. For many people, serving on a board allows them to make a difference in their community and support a cause that they care about.
Why Serve on a Nonprofit Board?
This is a powerful way to grow personal and build professional expertise. Individuals who serve on a board have the opportunity to cultivate new skill sets as leaders. Through their service, they also expand their network of peers, professionals, community leaders, and thought leaders, which provides new avenues for development, outreach, influence, and mentorship.
BoardSource has developed the following learning experience to help you determine if board service is right for you, and, if it is, get started.
Is Serving on a Nonprofit Board Right for You?
Serving on a board can be an amazing experience, and it may also be demanding. Before joining a board, ask yourself if board service is right for you.
Are you committed to sharing your time and talents to help make the world a better place?
Do you have specialized skills, lived experience, expertise, or passion that could benefit a nonprofit board’s work?
Are you willing to be an enthusiastic advocate for an organization and encourage others to get involved?
What Type of Experience Do You Find Most Fulfilling?
Board service is a form of volunteerism, and it typically involves organizational oversight, guarding the mission, and vision casting. If this is in line with your desired involvement, then board service might be right for you. While this type of work has a huge impact on the organization, it is not close to the work. If your sense of personal fulfillment lends itself toward a more hands-on volunteer opportunity, consider inquiring about direct-service volunteer opportunities.
How Much Time Should You Dedicate Toward Board Work?
Board leadership takes time. Board members are legally required to fulfill their fiduciary duties, which may require you to devote a considerable amount of time to the organization. The amount of time varies greatly by organization and circumstances, but simply planning to attend the board meetings is not sufficient. Board members should regularly review financial statements and meeting materials, as well as prepare for and attend organization events, committee meetings, and board meetings.
Do You Like to Collaborate with Others, or Do You Prefer to Work Alone?
Boards are teams of committed and engaged individuals who work together to govern the organization. Collaboration and accountability are key to an effective and united board. Board members can and do work independently to fulfill certain duties but always with the knowledge and approval of the other members as they work toward a common goal. If you prefer to work alone, then board service may not be the right way for you to work with the organization. Consider providing pro bono professional services or direct-service volunteering as alternatives.
Do You Want to Assist a Nonprofit Organization in Setting Strategy and Direction, Ensuring Resources, and Providing Oversight?
Establishing an organization’s purpose and setting its strategic direction is the most essential board leadership role. The board works in partnership with the chief executive and staff, as appropriate, to articulate the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
No organization can do its important work without resources to support its social-good purpose. Organizations need people to do the work; money to support its people, systems, and programs; and connections with individuals and other organizations to earn the trust of those the organization seeks to serve. While the board itself does not cultivate and secure these resources on its own — it does so in partnership with the chief executive and staff — it has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that these resources are in place and used correctly.
The board is responsible for providing oversight, ensuring that the organization is accountable to its purpose and operating ethically and responsibly. It provides an essential safeguard for addressing impropriety or lack of performance that would threaten the organization and its work. The oversight role is critical, and it must be made aware that the board is performing that role, even when things are going well. Key components of this role include: evaluating and supporting the chief executive, ensuring legal and ethical integrity, providing financial oversight and strategic deployment of resources, managing risk, and monitoring progress toward implementing organizational strategy.
Serving on a Nonprofit Board Could Be for You
After evaluating the questions and board functions above, take our readiness quiz to find out if you are ready to serve on a nonprofit board.
How to Get Started in Nonprofit Board Service
Follow these four steps to guide you through the recruitment process.
- Find your passion. First, identify the types of organizations that interest you and learn what they expect from their board members.
- Identify board opportunities. The next step is to explore open positions. Start browsing and learning more about the organization before you connect.
- Connect with a nonprofit board. Each organization handles its board recruitment differently; the next step is to express your interest.
- Be an exceptional board member. Congratulations! Your preparation and diligence have paid off, and an organization whose mission you care deeply about has extended you an invitation to join its board. Now, it’s time to get to work! Before attending your first board meeting, you should educate yourself on the roles and responsibilities of board members and attend the organization’s board member orientation.
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