Joining a Nonprofit Board

Why do people join nonprofit boards?

People have countless reasons for wanting to become nonprofit board members. Some are focused on giving back; others want to receive something in return, and still, others want to do both. Some motivations are highly personal, even emotional, while some are purely rational. Sometimes people decide independently after looking for a board position, and sometimes the organisation actively recruits them.

Most individuals have well-informed, honourable intentions, and with guidance, they have the potential to have fulfilling board experiences. But occasionally, motivations are misinformed, wholly self-serving, or simply not constructive. It is acceptable to be guided by personal motivations. After all, you are devoting your own time to this task. Just be sure that personal benefit is not the only reason you want to join a board. Your commitment to the mission of the organisation must be the primary consideration.

Consider the following motivations. Do you see some of your own on this list?

The desire to be useful

  • You have a specific cause that is important to you, and you want to be active in supporting it.
  • You have specific skills to help an organisation stay or become more viable.
  • You want to “give back” and do your civic duty.
  • You are concerned about your community and want to have a say in its future.
  • You are concerned about a particular organisation and believe you can help turn it around and make it successful again.
  • You have the time to commit to a meaningful activity.
  • You are a leader and want to share this skill.
  • You have volunteered in an organisation and now want to have a more significant impact on its future.

Personal interests

  • You are building your career, and being a board member would allow you to learn new skills or practice current ones.
  • You think nonprofit board experience would be considered a plus on your resume or in your academic credentials.
  • You want the opportunity to network with like-minded or otherwise interesting people.
  • You are retired and want to start a new “career” helping a nonprofit; serving actively on a board would give you meaningful work with a flexible schedule.
  • You are new to the community and want to make friends.
  • You want a challenge, and board service is something you have never tried before.
  • You want to be an insider and directly influence how a nonprofit functions.
  • You are interested in a job with an organisation, and serving on its board would be a way to get to know it first.
  • You want to add fun to your life, and working with a team “doing good” would accomplish that.

However, some motivations are worth examining and questioning because they are not solid reasons to join a board. Some examples of these include:

  • A friend asked you, and you feel you can’t say “no.”
  • Your company is pressuring staff to serve on boards, and you feel you must do so to keep your job.
  • You contributed to a nonprofit, and now you want to make sure you have a say in how the money is used.
  • You feel guilty because you have not given enough to your community.
  • You are lonely and need a new activity to get out of the doldrums.

Steps in becoming a board member

Identify an organisation you’re interested in serving

If you are already a volunteer in an organisation, you might investigate the possibility of joining its board. Familiarity is an asset. However, it is essential to realise that direct-service volunteering differs from board service.

If you aren’t dedicating time to an organisation already, you first need to determine what kind of an organisation you would like to be affiliated with. What mission areas are you interested in? Would you like to be involved with groups dealing with health, homelessness, hunger, arts, education, environment, religion, or international affairs? The choices are numerous.

Next, you need to define the scope of your interest. Are you interested in your neighbourhood and other local activities, or would you like a national focus? As a novice board member, you may benefit from starting with a homeowners’ association, a church committee, or a community centre board. Many national organisations also have local chapters that allow you to get involved with more significant issues.

You should also take advantage of local volunteer centres like Volunteering Hawkes Bay, which can help you identify organisations that match your skills and interests.

Contact the organisation

Contact that organisation after finding an organisation that you would like to know better. Visit the offices. Look at the website. Gather as much information as you can about what the organisation does.

If you are still confident about your choice, make an appointment with a board member or the chief executive and indicate your interest in joining the board. The organisation may want you to join a committee or volunteer in another capacity before you are nominated for board service. A willingness to do this will help your chances.

Exchange information

Be prepared to ask questions. Focus on the organisation’s mission, financial stability, constituents and customers, and the structure of the board.

Make sure that the organisation asks many questions about you. You want to be part of an organisation with a well-planned recruitment process. Recruitment is a two-way street. Both sides need to get what they are looking for. Being willing and able is not enough. It would help if you filled the need in the board at a given moment. Effective boards are composed of various skills, talents, backgrounds, and perspectives, and they often rely on their profile as a tool for recruitment.

Understand the expectations

Educate yourself and expect the organisation to educate you on the responsibilities and liabilities.

Make sure that you understand the organisation’s expectations on its board members. For example, what are the fundraising and personal contribution responsibilities? What is the meeting attendance policy? How many committee assignments are you expected to accept? Also, keep in mind that different types of nonprofits will have different expectations of their board members based on their size, mission, and particular challenges.

Moving forward

If, after all the contacts and information sharing, the board extends an invitation for you to join, you can celebrate a victory. Most organisations are happy to occasionally change roles and turn from the recruiter to the recruited one. Searching and cultivating potential board members is a demanding and time-consuming task. Interested and committed board members are not easy to find. Willing candidates stepping forward is a promising sign for future productivity.

If during the cultivation, it becomes clear that the match was not made in heaven, you still gained valuable experience for your next search. Don’t give up. There are many other organisations that could benefit from your service.

If you would like help finding a board to serve on, call Volunteering Hawkes Bay on 06 391 5476 or you can view the roles we have for Board members here.

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