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Is nonprofit board service right for you?

After serving 12 years as the president of Business Volunteers Maryland, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create a better community by engaging businesses and professionals in volunteerism and community service, I have had the opportunity to indirectly support more than 700 people in connecting with a nonprofit board. It’s been amazing to learn about so many diverse people’s interests, backgrounds, and reasons for wanting to give back through board service.

There is no question that there are a lot of personal and professional benefits of serving on a board — providing you with new experiences; helping to build your skills; expanding your networks; and providing you with opportunities to lead. But equally, if not more important, is the opportunity to use your unique skills to make a difference in some way.

Before you start to pursue a nonprofit board to join, you first need to understand the roles and responsibilities of a nonprofit board member.

Below are the 10 key responsibilities of a nonprofit Board member:

1. Determine and evaluate the organization’s mission and purpose

2. Select the chief executive

3. Support and evaluate the chief executive

4. Ensure effective planning

5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services

6. Ensure adequate financial resources

7. Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight

8. Ensure legal and ethical integrity

9. Build a competent board

10. Enhance the organization’s public standing and reputation

Important questions to ask

There are thousands of nonprofit organizations in Maryland that are doing important, charitable work in our community and to better fulfill their missions they need committed board members who are understand their roles and are prepared to contribute in meaningful ways. Therefore, it is very important that you think seriously about your ability to be an effective and engaged participant. In addition to understanding the roles and responsibilities of a board member, there are a variety of other considerations to make before joining a board.  These include asking yourself:

  • Are you personally ready to commit?
  • Do you have the time? If so, is the organization the best place to spend your time?
  • Can you handle the financial/fundraising expectations?
  • Are you passionate about the mission or cause?
  • Do you understand the organization’s culture?
  • Can you serve the needs of the organizations and be selfless?

So, through your personal assessment you decide you are ready and interested in moving forward, how do you get started? Each organization handles its board recruitment a little differently, but, in general, there are three basic steps to the recruitment process: (1) express interest; (2) interview; and (3) evaluate the fit.

Express interest

In general, the recruitment process begins when a candidate expresses interest in a position. This can occur through a formal outreach program or by responding to a board recruitment posting, like you can find on LinkedIn or other board or job posting sites.

Alternatively, if the organization that interests you does not have a formal outreach program or any open board postings, then you can contact it directly to express your interest.

Prior to reaching out, you should understand that some organizations prefer to have prospective board members serve on a committee first. This is a great opportunity for you to evaluate the culture of the board, and it allows the organization to assess your commitment and passion for the mission.

Whether you follow a formal outreach process or contact the organization directly, these tips will help you establish your credibility as a candidate:

  • Be familiar with the organization, its activities, and its challenges.
  • Be proactive, ask questions, and answer questions thoroughly.
  • Be prepared to articulate how your skills and leadership experiences can benefit the board and organization.

Interview

The interview process is the most critical step in the recruiting process. This is the opportunity for

you to understand what is expected of you as a board member and for the board to understand how your skills, talents, experiences, and perspectives will enhance its ability to advance the mission of the organization

You should prepare questions to ask and be prepared to answer many questions about you. You want to be part of an organization with a well-planned process that treats recruitment as a two-way street. Here are some potential questions to ask when you meet with an organization:

  • What is the organization’s mission?
  • How do you achieve your mission?  What are the key programs and services
  • What is the revenue structure and key funding sources?
  • What are some of the challenges facing the organizations now and in the future?
  • Are there opportunities for organizational development and growth? What are they?
  • Do they have a strategic plan?  Ask to see it, and the budget.
  • Do they have Directors and officers insurance?
  • What is expected of board members? What skills are they seeking?
  • What are the financial expectations?

Both parties should get what they are looking for. Being willing and able is not enough. You must fill a need on the board at a given moment. You may bring marketing acumen to the mix at just the right time, for example, or the board may be trying to fill a gap in financial expertise.

Effective boards combine various skills, talents, backgrounds, and perspectives, and they often use a matrix of their present composition and future needs as a recruitment tool.

Evaluate the fit

Only you can determine if a board service opportunity is the right one for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider a specific board opportunity:

  • Am I excited about this organization and the work that it does? Is this a cause or mission that I want to dedicate my time, energy, and money to support and lead?
  • Can I have a positive impact? Is there an opportunity for me to make a difference in this organization? Can I help propel this organization forward with my expertise and connections?
  • Do I feel comfortable with the overall health of the organization? Do I know what the challenges and opportunities are, and am I comfortable with the level of risk that I will be assuming as a part of my legal responsibility as a board member?
  • Do I like and trust the people who are affiliated with the organization? Do I want to spend time working with these people? Do I think I can work well with them and be a positive part of the board’s culture?
  • Am I comfortable with the financial and time commitments necessary to serve on this board? Am I comfortable with all elements outlined in the board member job description?

Board service can be one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences.  But you should enter into it with a full understanding of what is expected of you and what you want to get out of it, making sure you engage with the right organization for your interests.

Kelly Hodge-Williams is president and CEO of Business Volunteers Maryland, a nonprofit organization that connects companies and individuals to results-focused volunteerism.

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