Have you ever been curious about joining a non-profit board? Learn more about non-profit boards, what they do for their organizations, how you can join one and why you should!
Written by Nicolette Fee
Have you ever been curious about joining a non-profit board? Joining a board not only looks good on paper but gives you the opportunity to learn about and support organizations in your communities!
Non-profit Board of Directors
Let’s start from the beginning- What is a non-profit Board of Directors?
Comprised of a group of individual volunteers, a Board of Directors is the governing body of a nonprofit organization who meet regularly to vote on and oversee the affairs of the organization. The duties of a board member can be broken down into the following areas:
- Duty of Care: Responsible to make sure the assets (staff, facilities, funds) are used in the best way possible.
- Duty of Loyalty: Ensure decisions are in the best interest of the organization, disclose conflicts of interest, and make sure all initiatives work towards the advancement of their organization’s mission.
- Duty of Obedience: To help ensure that the organization is obeying laws and regulations, adheres to established bylaws, and follows its mission.
Additional responsibilities of board members include hiring and assessing the organization’s staff such as the Executive Director, fundraising regularly, being present at events, attending all meetings (on average these occur 4-6 times a year), and promoting the organization as much as possible. It is also common to have an annual financial commitment (to either donate or sometimes to raise) to the organization that can range anywhere from $50 to $5000.
Young Professional Boards & Committees
Do the responsibilities of a member of the Board of Directors seem like they might be a little too much right now? Try out a Young Professional Board or join a nonprofit’s committee first!
Unlike the Board of Directors, an organization’s Young Professional (YP) Board does not have governance responsibilities, but instead acts in a more advisory role. YP Boards are comprised of individuals between the ages of 21- 40 and give “young philanthropists” an inside look into the non-profit world in general, as well as the mission of a specific organization. In this more advisory focused role, YP Board members will help with event planning, fundraising, volunteering, and usually offer smaller donations. 
Not exactly in the YP category, but still wanting to explore board service? Some nonprofits will allow non-board members to join some of their planning committees to offer their expertise. These can range from fundraising or development, finance or investment, audit, event planning, board membership/governance or even marketing/pr committees. If you think your skills or interests align with one of these, consider asking the nonprofit if they are looking to add additional members to existing committees. This is a great way to meet other members of the board, gain insight into how the nonprofit is run, have a greater impact with the organization and just learn more about the mission before committing to adding the responsibilities of a full board member.
Why join a board?
Now that we know what the types of non-profit boards are, why should you join one? What’s in it for you? Despite the differences in financial commitment and responsibility level, joining either version of a nonprofit board can be just as beneficial for you as it is for the organization…
- Learn about philanthropy from the inside! What better way to gain a better understanding of non-profit organizations and philanthropy than to be a part of it yourself?
- It is a great form of networking. Being a part of a board will bring you so many new experiences and you will meet a lot of interesting people from diverse backgrounds and industries. You never know which acquaintance will change your life!
- Experience with board work- especially for the young professionals. Almost every organization, company, or big business has a board of directors. Serving on a board will give you governance and leadership skills to use in your career and, not to mention, it will look fantastic on your resume.
- It feels good! It is always a wonderful feeling to be able to give back to your community.
How to Get Started
So now you’re hooked and cannot wait to start your journey as a Board Member, but where do you start? Here are some questions to ask yourself to guide you through this process:
- Which board structure sounds more appealing to me right now?
- What causes or organizations am I most interested in supporting?
- How much time am I willing to commit to this organization?
- Do I have certain skills that I can offer to the board?
- What are some skills I wish to develop further?
- How much of a financial commitment am I willing to take on each year?
Once you have answered all these questions, your hunt for an organization may begin! Think of organizations that you may have donated to or volunteered with in the past, as it helps to have an established connection to the organization, and see what they might have available for you. Reach out to your family, friends, and professional network to see if anyone has experience in non-profits or knows of a board that might be looking for new members. If nothing else, take to the internet and look for organization near you that spark interest! Once you have one in mind, be sure to ask to see a list of expectations and requirements, as well as a meeting schedule (as these can differ by organization and are usually laid out far in advance).
As for the actual application process, you will have to speak with the organization itself, as all organizations handle this in their own way. One thing to keep in mind is that joining a Board of Directors can be more challenging than a Young Professionals Board as often times you must be nominated or voted onto the board rather than simply completing an application process. It’s important to note, that board membership is a serious commitment – nonprofits are reliant on their boards for oversight, access to networks and funds and much more. It can be extremely frustrating and a waste of resources to deal with inactive board members. If you are hesitant at all, or feel you may not have the time or energy to commit to ALL requirements of the organization, do not join a board just to add to your resume.
So what if I get turned away?
In simple terms- it is not the end of the world! Sometimes it takes a stronger relationship with organizations to be on their board. Other times, boards may have a particular strategy for their board makeup (certain experience levels, wealth indicators or even industries they hope to include) – and sometimes it can just be a matter of timing. If this is really what you want, then make the effort to be more involved with them via volunteering, donating, promoting them on social media, participating in events, and staying in touch with any contacts you may have there until you are able to apply again. Always remember that non-profit organizations need people like you to support them, and that support will not go unnoticed!
If joining a non-profit board still sounds like more than you are willing to commit to right now but you still want to help make a difference in your community, start out smaller- like helping to set up a volunteer event for a small group! You can read more about that process here: https://www.uhmfoundation.org/blog/5-steps-to-planning-an-impactful-volunteer-event/