How To Become a Board Member of a Nonprofit: 5 Steps
Updated June 24, 2022
A nonprofit board determines the goals of an organization and raises the funds to achieve them. Board members can build relationships that strengthen their community and career and make impactful decisions. This type of volunteering requires significant contributions of your time and resources, but it can be very rewarding if you find the right cause. In this article, we discuss the advantages of being on a nonprofit board member and how to find and pursue an opportunity that fits for you.
Why become a board member of a nonprofit?
Becoming a board member for a nonprofit organization can offer the following personal and professional benefits:
As a board member, you can develop new skills and connections to advance your career. Your leadership, cooperation and financial literacy skills grow through your involvement, and you develop new knowledge of nonprofit operations. If you're looking for a position as an executive or leader, having experience on a board can boost your resume and help you be a more competitive candidate. Your fellow board members can broaden your professional network and may bring new job opportunities. If you have retired from a corporate setting or are looking to begin nonprofit work, being on a board can be a great way to make the transition.
Working on a nonprofit board is a good way to contribute to causes that are important to you. You can share your skills with your community and give back to organizations that have helped you succeed. If you have a passion for a particular organization, becoming a board member lets you get further involved and help decide the future direction of the group.
Related: Q&A: Do Board Members Get Paid?
What do the board members of a nonprofit do?
It's important to check into the specific obligations for a board when you consider joining it, because each board has different responsibilities and opportunities. Here are some things board members often do:
Attend regular meetings
Nonprofit board members usually meet at least four times a year to discuss the direction, budget and goals of the organization. Most boards expect all members to attend every meeting to hear different perspectives and ideas.
Make executive decisions
The board of directors hires and supervises the executive director of the organization, who then makes all hiring decisions for the staff. The board also makes operational decisions for the organization, such as approving contracts and reviewing budgets.
Contribute to organization
Board members give their time and energy to the organization they serve. Some boards also require financial contributions from members to maintain the organization's budget.
Help raise money
Fundraising is a primary duty of board members. In addition to personal gifts, they may also make connections between the organization and potential donors, maintain relationships with the organization's primary donors and arrange partnerships with businesses.
Board members plan and lead events like auctions, galas and tournaments to help with fundraising. You might undertake this planning on your own or work with a few other board members.
Fulfill legal duties
A nonprofit organization receives tax-exempt status and is subject to certain government regulations. Board members make sure that the organization complies with these regulations by exercising three duties:
Duty of care: Board members must be active and exercise care in making decisions.
Duty of loyalty: Board members must be loyal to the interests of the board and not take advantage of their position for personal gain.
Duty of obedience: Board members must act in accordance with the organization's goals.
How to become a board member of a nonprofit
Here are the steps to becoming a board member:
1. Find organizations
Look into many nonprofit organizations to find something that you are passionate or motivated about. Start by considering organizations you have a connection with, like places you volunteer or schools you've attended. Online databases and search tools can help you narrow down your search, both by interest area and geographic area.
Related: How to Find a Volunteer Opportunity
2. Research to see if it's a good fit
Next, do some preliminary research on one or two groups. At this stage, look for organizations that are:
Successful: Since a board position is public-facing, this experience contributes to your professional reputation. Consider how well it has performed over time if it is an established organization, or review the professional records of its leaders if it is a new organization.
Stable: When you look at the organization's history, check if it is financially stable. The board is responsible for an organization's performance, so it's helpful to understand the current financial status and how you can contribute quickly.
Related: 27 Types of Nonprofits (With FAQs)
3. Interview process
After you do this preliminary research, contact the board about becoming a member. This process is different for each board but can involve meetings and conversations with people like the CEO or board president. Be friendly and professional, and use your research about the organization to ask insightful questions. At this stage, you can start to understand what the board is looking for in a candidate and whether you have the right background and qualifications. Some organizations may require their members to help the organization by volunteering or serving on a committee before joining the board.
4. Learn about expectations
After initial contact, learn the details of the obligation, like:
Term length: Make sure you can perform the obligations for the full term before committing.
Insurance: Check to see if the nonprofit has insurance that protects board members from lawsuits and the organization's debts.
Meeting schedule: Consider the cost of travel to the meetings and the time investment.
Obligations: Build an understanding of how much power the board has in this organization and what your individual role involves.
5. Make final decision
If this organization is the right fit, you receive an invitation to join the board and move forward with the onboarding process. Knowing the organization well helps you fulfill your duties, so make sure you are familiar with the organization's policies, physical facilities and normal operating procedures.
What do nonprofits look for in board members?
Here are some things nonprofit boards look for in member candidates:
Willingness: Board members are often eager to participate in the board and have some kind of personal connection or drive to work toward the organization's goals.
Compatibility: As the board works together on every goal, it's important that board members can work well together and make collective decisions.
Expertise: When trying to accomplish certain projects or expand in new directions, boards seek members who can provide a specific skill or have expertise in a certain area relevant to the organization. Board members with legal, finance or human relations experience can inform the organization's daily operations.
Good reputation: Since the board members represent the organization and help with public fundraisers, a nonprofit looks for board members that have strong reputations in their communities.
Connections: To expand into new areas or strengthen relationships with certain political or social groups, boards may look for members with connections in those areas.
Wealth: Since a nonprofit does not necessarily have an income stream, the ability of board members to financially support the organization is sometimes a consideration.
Nonprofit organizations look for different combinations of these items, and each board has its own needs and goals that change over time. Over any individual characteristic, nonprofit boards usually seek candidates who are the right fit for them.
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