Giving of your time and talent to serve on a board of directors for a professional, service or charitable organization can be a rewarding, demanding, challenging and life-changing experience. Making the most of the experience to foster both your personal growth, as well as that of the organization you have decided to affiliate with, should be the focus of any board appointment you seek out and/or accept.
Whether you are hoping to make a difference, give back or simply looking for a new challenge, serving on a nonprofit board is often considered an expected step along your career path. Doing so not only recognizes your expertise and community commitment, it can also further enhance your reputation. As noted by BoardSource, a national organization aimed at strengthening nonprofit board leadership, board members provide the critical intellectual capital and strategic resources to power nonprofit success and strengthen communities.
Just as there are many different reasons for serving on a board, there are many nonprofit boards to choose from. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, including charities, chambers of commerce, private foundations, civic leagues, economic development and fraternal organizations. All have board of directors who are seeking volunteers, particularly when it comes to strategy, finance, marketing and diversity. Before you lend your time and talent, consider not only what you hope to give, but what you hope to gain from your service.
What are you passionate about? Answering this question will help steer you in the direction where you can have the most impact and receive the greatest satisfaction. You want to make a commitment and invest your time to initiatives and causes that are meaningful to you personally and/or professionally, because as a board member you become an ambassador for that organization. It is easy to talk about issues and causes that inspire you and where you feel rewarded by your contributions.
What skills can you build upon? Many times your initial involvement on a board of directors is based on what skills and expertise you bring to the table. However, because boards are typically made up of people from diverse backgrounds and experience, they offer an opportunity to strengthen your team building skills, while expanding knowledge and understanding through different perspectives. Being open to different paths to success or seeing things through a different lens helps everyone, and the organization, be better together.
Are you ready to expand your network? Being recognized as an expert or community influencer is why you became part of a board in the first place. Now that you are serving as a director affords you the opportunity to elevate your profile. Your service on a board adds to your credibility and can further build your personal and professional reputation. This not only increases the number of people who seek you out, but broadens your horizons and expands access to new relationships that can influence and shape your future goals.
How much are you willing to give? Beyond the monthly board meeting, it is important to remember that serving as a board director will also lead to committee work and asking for financial support. As BoardSource points out, one of the primary responsibilities of board directors is to ensure the organization has the resources necessary to carry out its mission. Demonstrating your own commitment as a donor and supporter of the organization you are serving makes it easier to ask others for support. This is where your passion and commitment for what you are doing shine through and puts words into action.
The other thing to keep in mind is that less may be more. While being asked to serve on multiple boards is flattering, asking yourself the above questions can help you identify one or two that truly inspire you, and where you feel your time and talent can have the most impact. You don’t want to serve in name only.
Also ask yourself if serving on a nonprofit board may be a stepping-stone to serving on a for-profit board. If so, your experience and expanded network can help take you to the next level.
Most importantly, remember your board service should be rewarding. It is about connecting what you are passionate about, advocating for a cause or issue and making an impact. Where can you make a difference?