Considerations Prior to Joining a Non-profit Board of Directors

I’ve had the honor of serving on several non-profit boards, and I am very happy that I am involved.  I feel that it adds to the balance of my life as its own entity, but filters into both my professional and personal life. My motivation was two fold. Primarily, I wanted to be an example of stewardship to my daughter. The other was to be impactful in my community.

Considering the experience I have had as a Board member, I believe there are four steps to consider before engaging in a relationship with an organization.
  1. Understand the mission and goals, and truly be passionate about it.  I have come to the realization that the boards that I have dedicated a lot of my time are causes that are close to my heart. I can identify these quickly: empowering females, fairness to everyone, and encouraging education especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
  2. Understand the “state” of the organization.   
    1. FinanciallyIf there are funding issues, budget constraints, and/ or a capital campaign when onboarding, this can be a bigger challenge versus a financially robust organization that has just completed a campaign.
    2. Leadership: Considering that I will be dedicating my time and resources typically on a volunteer basis, I want to surround myself with people that give positive energy and can inspire me.  It is imperative that I feel a connection with the President/ CEO or Exectutive Director and the other board members.
    3. Strategy: The organization should have a strategic plan that they are executing.  It should be clear to explain and have metrics that can be met.  I have found that it’s a red flag when longstanding organizations justify their actions with “We’ve always done it this way.”
  3. Understand the organizations expectations and the criteria for their prospects.  Typically, the nominating committee has reviewed the demographics of the current board members and have identified gaps and/or successes that they want to enhance. There is a reason they want you on their board.
    1. Give or get: One of the responsibilities I’ve always encountered is a fiduciary responsibility (anywhere from $2000-$10,000 per year). If I cannot directly donate the dollars, I’m expected to find others to financially support the organization (friends, family, business associates).
    2. Development expectations: There may be an expectation to bring ideas and innovation to the organization to help them grow.  This can also include involving your network, your industry, or your professional affiliations.
    3. Time commitment:  There are Board meetings and committee meetings, and there is usually an expectation of attending a majority of them.  In addition, there are also events to attend and possibly committee assignments.
  4. Understand your capabilities. With all of this being said, it is important to consider your motivation and your contribution.
    1. Financials: I believe it is important to realistically evaluate the financial commitment. It should be an amount that will not stress you out in order to keep the board seat.
    2. Time: Adding an extracurricular activity does include a time commitment, and it should align without interfering with current work or personal commitments.
    3. Network: As a Board member, you will be representing the organization to your network.  You also have the opportunity to inspire others to get more involved. Will that network support you and the organization?
    4. “Secret sauce”: As a prospect, to solidify your seat at the table, you should identify what makes you an excellent fit.  There should be something compelling that draws them to you, and sets you apart.

Invitation: Being active in your community is a very rewarding experience.  It is an opportunity to learn more about those in the community who are helping others. It is also good for your soul. Are you giving enough to your community and how can your talents and resources better your community?