Joining a nonprofit board is a great way to make a difference, lending your time, resources, and expertise to a worthy cause to help further a mission.
However, if you’re not already involved with an organization, it can be difficult to know where to look or begin.
In this article, we will share all you need to know about how to get on a board of a nonprofit organization. We’ll cover what boards are, how they operate, and tips you can follow to increase your chances of success.
Let’s dive in.
What Is a Nonprofit Board and Why Is It Important?
Let’s start at the beginning: what are nonprofit boards and why do they matter?
A nonprofit board of directors is an organization’s governing body. The board provides financial, legal, and strategic oversight to the nonprofit and ensures it’s functioning in accordance with its bylaws.
Providing strategic guidance to an organization’s operations, including its mission and vision
Approving the strategic plan, including the programming, budget, fundraising efforts, and more
Hiring and setting compensation levels for the Executive Director
In the U.S., most nonprofits are required to have at least three board members who meet at least once per year, but most will have more members and meet more frequently.
Boards usually have a Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer as well as other committees. Boards decisions are generally made through majority votes or other processes outlined in their bylaws.
Most board terms are between two to six years, making it a substantial commitment that should be taken seriously.
Since nonprofit boards are responsible for guiding and overseeing the organization’s success, most boards are made up of members with different industry expertise and of different genders and ages so that they can provide diverse skills and perspectives.
Steps to Become a Board Member of a Nonprofit
Joining a nonprofit board of directors is a great way to get involved in the community, leveraging your skills and resources to make a difference.
If you’re wondering how to become a board member for a nonprofit, here are some steps you can take.
1. Do Your Research
Nonprofits generally want board members who are passionate about their cause, so as you consider what board you want to serve on, it’s important to find a nonprofit whose work is meaningful to you.
Take some time to reflect internally to identify a cause you are passionate about.
Once you get an idea of the type of work you want to help with, start researching organizations that are local to you. If you are open to travel, you can broaden your search.
If you find a nonprofit that seems to align with your interests, make sure to spend some time researching it thoroughly. Take a look at its history, its finances (including 990 forms), its annual reports, and more.
Dig deep. You’re going to be investing a lot of time and energy into the organization, so it’s important that you feel connected to the nonprofit’s mission and want to help further its cause.
2. Verify the Nonprofit
Before you reach out to a nonprofit to inquire about open board positions, you’ll want to first vet the organization to ensure its legitimacy and credibility.
Essentially, you want to check to see that they are actually making a positive difference in their community, that they are properly using their funds, and that they are operating effectively.
One quick way to do this is by checking websites like Charity Navigator, which lets you search for organizations by name or by cause to verify the nonprofit’s status.
High ratings indicate that it’s an organization you can trust, which is important as you look to where you want to spend your time.
Low ratings could indicate the organization previously had issues or is in the middle of a turnaround. If you feel strongly about an organization, dig into the ratings to learn more.
3. Reach Out to the Organization
Once you have found an organization you are passionate about and have verified its legitimacy, your next step should be to reach out to them.
You can email them directly to introduce yourself, share your interest, and indicate you’d like to learn more about any open board positions.
You can also network with organizational leadership at local events to start fostering key relationships. You want to make it clear that you are passionate about the organization’s work and have a deep desire to help advance its cause.
4. Interview for the Position
Some board positions are posted, while others are filled by word of mouth—it just depends on the organization.
Regardless of the application process, once you have indicated your interest in joining the board, you’ll probably have an interview with the Executive Director and other board members.
During your interview, share what interests you about the organization, including any personal connections you may have to the cause. Connect your professional background to the organization’s mission and share how you can help advance its cause.
Nonprofits often look for board members with diverse backgrounds whose skills and competencies can help boost the organization’s good work. Make sure to talk about specific skills and expertise you have that would be of value to the organization.
And if you have identified gaps in the nonprofit’s operations, don’t be afraid to share how your skill set could help fill them. This is an opportunity for you to share how you would be an asset to the board and the organization as a whole.
Also, remember that you’re interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you to ensure it's a mutual fit. Ask them about their mission, their strategic plan, and more. Consider how often and where they meet, if there are any special requirements, what the term length is, what the financial commitment is if any, and more.
Make sure that you feel comfortable with their answers—you want to feel good about serving on their board.
5. Start the Good Work!
If it’s a good fit for both you and the organization, you should now be ready to officially join the nonprofit’s board of directors!
Now’s the time to start the good work! You’ll need to make good on all the promises that you made during the application and interview process.
As a new member of the board of directions, you’re there to provide guidance and to steward the organization’s overall health.
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Now that you know the process of how to get on a board of a nonprofit, here are some tips to help you get there.
You’ll be serving on the board of your dreams in no time.
Wear Your Passion on Your Sleeve
Nonprofits wear their hearts on their sleeves—and you should too!
Don’t be afraid to show the organization just how engaged you are with their work and how meaningful their mission is to you. Bring your passion to the interview process.
Your excitement about the organization’s mission should drive you and inspire you, and it will show as you speak to the Executive Director and other board members. It’s just as important as your professional expertise.
Identify What You Can Bring to Them
Members of a nonprofit’s board of directors often have deep expertise and unique skills that only they can bring to the organization.
Are you a real estate professional looking to help a community housing organization? Maybe you’re a marketing professional looking to help grow the visibility of a new nonprofit.
Whatever the case may be, you have specific expertise, and you can put it to work in unique ways when you join a nonprofit board. Make sure that you not only identify what makes you special but that you highlight it during the application process.
Leverage Your Connections
As you look to join a nonprofit board, it’s important that you leverage your connections.
If you know someone who serves on the board or has connections to the organization, don’t be afraid to reach out and indicate your interest. These connections can help you get on boards that don’t even have positions posted.
Remember, most organizations love meeting new people who want to get involved, especially financially, so make sure you’re ready to join when you make your interest known.
Wrapping Up: The Next Steps
To get on a board of a nonprofit, you will want to demonstrate your passion and show how you can add value to the organization.
At the end of the day, joining a nonprofit board is a great way to serve your community while leveraging your professional competencies.
Check out our blog for more nonprofit tips, insights, and best practices so that you can start making a difference today.
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