How To Join A Nonprofit Board: The Complete Guide

Joining NPO Boards, How To Join A Nonprofit Board: The Complete Guide

If you’re serious about making a difference in your community, becoming a nonprofit board member is ideal. That’s why millions of people dedicate their time and expertise to shaping the future of nonprofit organizations with board service. If you’re ready to provide an organization with the time, strategic resources and commitment they need to thrive but don’t know where to get started. Read on to discover our complete guide to joining a nonprofit board.

Also read:

Why become a board member of a nonprofit?

There are many reasons people choose to join a nonprofit board and serve as contributing members. What’s more, becoming a board member for a nonprofit organization can offer the following advantages:

Personal Advantages

Not only is joining a nonprofit board an ideal way to support important causes, but you also get a chance to serve your community with the skills you have. So, if you have a passion for a particular organization, becoming a board member will help you get further involved in crafting its future.

Many people choose to join nonprofit boards to help them learn new skills and practice current ones. At the same time, they use their time as a serving member to network with like-minded or otherwise interesting people.

Professional Advantages

Serving on a nonprofit board is the fastest and most ideal way to support a cause that you care about deeply. Yet, it’s also an excellent opportunity and method for you to build upon your skills and expertise. As a result, those who serve on nonprofit boards develop themselves as leaders, expand their professional network and position themselves as community thought leaders.

Passion & Desire to help

Not as much an advantage as they are facts, but most people who want to serve on nonprofit boards do so because they deeply resonate with the organization’s cause. Maybe it’s something specific that’s important to them, and they want to be active in helping to support it. Things like being concerned about your community and having a say in its future. Other types of passion motivators include a need to “give back” or “fulfil a civic duty.”

Also read: 7 Qualities All Great Nonprofit Board Members Have

What do the board members of a nonprofit do?

Before joining a nonprofit board, you must understand what you’ll be responsible for in terms of what board members do. Read on to discover what nonprofit board members do regularly:

Fulfil legal duties

Every nonprofit organization receives tax-exempt status. As a result, they’re subject to specific government regulations. Therefore, board members are responsible for making sure that the organization complies with these regulations. They do so by exercising three fundamental duties:

  1. Duty of care: Board members must actively exercise care when making decisions.
  2. A Duty of loyalty: Board members must be loyal to the board’s interests and not take advantage of their position for personal gain.
  3. Duty of obedience: Board members must act following the organization’s goals.

Plan events

Nonprofit board members are responsible for planning and leading events like auctions, galas and tournaments to assist with fundraising.

Make executive decisions

Not only does the board of directors hire and supervise the Executive Director/CEO of the organization, who then makes all operational decisions. But, board members have a role to monitor the performance of the Executive Director/CEO and ensure all legal requirements are met.

Also read: The Role of Nonprofit Governance Committees

Attend board meetings

Nonprofit board members usually meet once a month or every 2 months to discuss the organization’s progression, direction, budget, and goals. For this reason, most boards expect all members to attend every meeting to hear different perspectives and ideas.

Contribute to the organization

Like with any job and position of authority, board members give plenty of time and energy to the organization they serve. Some boards also require financial contributions from members to maintain the organization’s budget. Something to consider and bear in mind when researching possible organizations.

Raise funds

Fundraising is often the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization. As a result, it is a primary duty of board members. Meaning they must connect with potential donors, maintain the relationship and arrange partnerships with relevant businesses.

How to join a nonprofit board

Below are the 7 fundamental steps for joining a nonprofit board:

1. Identify your passion

The first step in joining a nonprofit board may seem obvious, but you must find your passion. If you’re going to dedicate the time and energy that board service requires, you want to make sure that you’re doing it for an organization and mission that you care about. So by considering the questions below, you’ll better identify what type of organization you might want to work in the long term:

  • Is there a particular cause or mission that you are passionate about? 
  • Is there an organization that you’ve been volunteering for that might have an opportunity to get more involved?
  • Do you donate funds to a cause that you’d like to support with your talents?

For example, here are some standard nonprofit organizations’ mission areas for you to explore, consider and determine what makes you want to do good:

Animal protection and welfare
Arts, culture and humanities
Community improvement
Education and research
Environment
Health

Historical preservation
Human/Social service
International development
Foreign affairs
Media
Philanthropy

Grantmaking
Religion and faith-based
Science and technology
Social justice
Sports and recreation
Youth

2. Find a relevant organization

Once you know what you’re passionate about, you can begin to research relevant nonprofit organizations. You can start by considering organizations you have a connection with, such as places you already volunteer, schools you’ve attended or even organizations you donate to now. For this reason, online databases and search tools can help you narrow down your search, both by interest area and geographic area.

3. Contact the organization

Now you’ve found the organization that you would like to know better. You can contact that organization. Many people start by looking at the website. That way, you can gather as much information as you can about what the organization does. Once confident about your choice, contact them to make an appointment with one of their board members and indicate your interest in joining the board. The organization may want you to join a committee or volunteer in another capacity before nominating you for board service. For this reason, a willingness to do this will help your chances considerably.

4. Undergo the interview process

While the interview process will differ from board to board, it usually involves meetings and conversations with people like the Executive Director/CEO or board president.

So when attending board member interviews, remember to be friendly, personable and professional by using your research about the organization to ask insightful questions.

Remember, this stage is as much for you as it is for the organization. So take the opportunity to understand what the board is looking for in a candidate. As well as considering whether you have the right background and qualifications for the role and its responsibilities.

It’s also crucial to note that some organizations require their members to help the organization by volunteering or serving on a committee before joining the board.

5. Determine expectations

Once the interview stage is over, and made initial contact. It’s time to establish the nonprofit organization’s expectations from you, the potential board member. To do so, you ask them questions about:

Term length: To ensure you can perform and commit to the obligations for the entire term. 

Insurance: To see if the nonprofit has insurance that protects board members from lawsuits and debts.

Meeting schedule: To help you consider the cost of travel to meetings, including the time investment.

Obligations: To build an understanding of how much power the board has in this organization. 

6. Make a decision

Lastly, if the organization is a good fit for your passion and personal and professional interests, it’s time to decide. Once accepted, you’ll receive an invitation to join the board and materials to help you move forward with the onboarding process.

Final word: Is nonprofit board service right for you?

Serving on a board can be a fantastic experience, but it is also very demanding. So, before joining a nonprofit board, you should ask yourself if board service is the right choice for you. To help you decide, ask yourself these questions and reflect on your answers before contacting any organizations:

1. How much time are you willing to dedicate to board work?

Your answer to this question is significant as board members are legally required to fulfil fiduciary duties, which require a considerable amount of time. While the exact amount of time will vary between organizations, your contribution won’t be sufficient if you’re only planning to be present for board meetings.

So consider, are you willing to review financial statements, meeting materials and strategic plans in preparation for attending committee and board meetings?

2. Do you prefer to work alone, or are you happy and willing to regularly collaborate with others?

If you prefer to work alone instead of in a team, board service may not be the right avenue for you. That’s because board teams are committed individuals who thrive on working together to govern their organization. Instead, you could consider providing pro bono professional services or direct-service volunteering alternatives to board service.

3. Can you assist a nonprofit organization with its fundraising?

Fundraising is the lifeblood of many organizations. Hence, one of the primary responsibilities of board members is to ensure the organization has adequate financial resources to carry out its mission.

For this reason, many nonprofit organizations have a fundraising policy in place for board members. They often state how board members can contribute to the organization’s fundraising efforts. So, before joining a nonprofit board, make sure that you will be comfortable making a personal contribution and asking others to contribute to the organization.

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