Tips for Joining a Non-Profit Board of Directors

One of my career goals over the last few years was to join a nonprofit board. Let’s be honest, day jobs in corporate America may pay the bills (see: pay off student loans) but very rarely meet a higher noble calling. So to meet that calling, I figured it would be cool to dedicate some extra time and skills to an organization I could feel passionate about. <And if I’m being truly honest, I always thought that people who served on boards were total bad-asses who seemed to have it all together… and I wanted to seem like one too!>

Some lessons that I learned along the way:

1. Find your passionate cause. For me, I’m a young(ish) working mom with small kids. I’m a bleeding heart, so I can easily get behind any worthy cause but there’s something about fighting for other mama’s that just gets my blood flowing. Narrow down to the cause that you can easily spend hours of your spare time working.

2. Determine the type of board you want to join. Do you thrive in a start-up culture where you can get experience in many aspects of an organization or would you be more comfortable in a well-established board with limited job scope? Do you want to join a board for deep networking in your field? Do you want to be on an edgy, hip team or a steady tried-and-true team? For my first board position, I knew that I didn’t have the deep pockets for some well-established organizations, but I also knew I love getting exposure to everything. So, I focused on a younger non-profit that I could make a direct impact.

3. Determine what skills that you want to bring to the table and how you can fit in. I’m a project manager by trade and I love to organize events – so fundraising campaigns are a good fit for me. My husband works in finance so he brings financial oversight experience to the table. Everyone can bring something! It’s good to know what you want to do with your skills and what type of skills a particular non-profit needs at that moment.

4. Get to know board members and show your interest. Networking can sound intimidating, but most board members or staff members that I’ve met are passionate about what they do and are happy to grab coffee or lunch to talk about it. Ask them where their greatest needs are currently. Offer to do some volunteer work. Share your interest in their mission and ask questions.

5. Become involved. Are there volunteer committees that you can join? Fundraisers that you keep showing up for? Relevant social media posts that you can make? Be present.

6. Express your interest in joining the board. As you become more familiar with the organization, ask about upcoming board member openings. Spruce up your resume. Be ready to make some financial or time commitments if they are required. Just remember, you might have to be the one to initiate the conversation. Sometimes, staff and board members just don’t know how to ask you. So take the initiative if you need to.

7. Maintain your commitment. Once you are there, make sure that you continue to be present. Offer to chair an event, or reorganize the database with donor addresses, etc. Some nonprofits rely on their boards to function on a daily basis, so make sure you are pulling your weight.

8. Know when your time has come. Once you have put in some time with the org, also know when the time is right for you to exit. Some boards have strict policies about term limits while others are happy for you to stay forever. Determine your personal boundaries and if you find that the organization is not a good fit anymore, make a move.

9. Have fun! You are most likely doing this for no pay and in addition to a full personal or work schedule. Make sure that you find ways to keep the passion and fun going!

If you need help in identifying nonprofits for your profile, there are always good community resources. These links are for Southwestern PA, but similar resources are available across the country.

  • A google search of your area is a quick, easy, free way to begin your quest.
  • Organizations like United Way or the Pittsburgh Foundation will have lists of vetted nonprofits that they support.
  • Sign up for BoardsWork! – for a fee, they help introduce you to and ultimately place you with a non-profit board that fits your profile.
  • Find volunteer opportunities in your area by searching the Pittsburgh Cares site.
  • And shamelessly, I will plug: follow The Good People Network for upcoming fundraisers and unique volunteer opportunities for nonprofits in the area. Or DM us for some thoughts on ways to become more involved with a certain organization.

For those of you looking to join a board, best of luck and let us know how we can help! For those of you who are already living the dream, share in the comments below – what else has worked for you? What are some surprising things you learned on your journey?

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