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 the hard work begins.

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.


Board member roles and responsibilities

Board membership is not just an honorary position, a social activity with friends, or a simple team exercise. Above all, it comes with legal expectations and liabilities. This is the most important concept to understand about board service. Every board member is responsible for his or her own actions — or failure to act — on the board. BoardSource offers free resources to introduce you to the topics you will encounter as a new board member. See the additional resources listed below for more information.

BoardSource also offers a certificate program that covers the fundamental nonprofit governance concepts every nonprofit leader should understand, including board structure and practices, the roles and responsibilities of board members, and financial and legal oversight.

Board member orientation

BoardSource recommends that every organization offer a formal onboarding process for new board members. Make sure you attend your board’s orientation sessions and ask questions throughout.

During the orientation, learn about the board culture. Understand how the members work together and how you can be an effective participant.

Prior to your first meeting, you should review
Organizations’ Bylaws

All nonprofit organizations need regulations that determine how they are governed. The bylaws are unique to your nonprofit and will tell you exactly what the organization and the board can and cannot do.

Previous Financial Statements

The board’s financial responsibilities are so critical that you must take the time to understand them. The board makes sure that the organization is well managed and that its financial situation remains sound.

Tips for being an exceptional board member

Board service is probably the most demanding volunteer activity. To best serve the board and the organization, follow these tips:

  • Accept committee and board assignments with enthusiasm — and then follow through. Use all your professional skills to draft recommendations, carry out tasks, and help the board do its work between meetings.
  • Come to meetings prepared; ask questions when something seems unusual or when you do not understand something.
  • Be prepared to respect and learn from different viewpoints on the board while participating in robust discussions to find the best options for the organization.

Get excited!

You soon will be an ambassador of the organization. Get ready to spread the good word among your friends and acquaintances.

Are you a BoardSource member? If so, you can prepare for your new role by accessing the hundreds of additional resources available in the Topics section of our website. Not a member? Learn more about BoardSource membership.

Additional resources

For more information about serving on a board, check out these additional resources: