Getting on Board

17 04 2009

I recently was asked, “When you want to serve on a nonprofit board, how do you find the right one? What a great question!  Here in the nonprofit field, I often work with boards that have been bringing people to the table just because they’re friends. But there are much better ways to populate nonprofit boards…(fodder for another post! )

But if you’re looking to give back to society, and think you want to be on a board, that’s a very sophisticated dilemma. A lot of times, people end up on nonprofit boards for well-meaning but not so thoughtful reasons. Maybe a friend asked you. Or you’ve volunteered there in the past . Or maybe it’s a career move — you want to get close to someone else who’s already on that board.

 Of course, you may get lucky following one of these methods, but taking some clear steps should give you a better chance at a great, helpful, and above all, meaningful experience. It’s just like finding a new job. You don’t just broadcast your resume and see what sticks; you do your homework to find the right job for your talent and place in life.

 The 3 Ts nonprofits look for in their board members are: Time, Talent and Treasure. That is, time to give, talent they can use, and treasure they can donate. Maybe you’ve heard of the 3 Ws…Work, Wisdom, and Wealth. Good boards look for at least 2 of the 3 when the time comes to fill open board positions. In all fairness, if you want to be on a board, you should expect to have at least 2 of the 3 to give to the organization. And the way to be happy doing that is by making sure you’ve made the best match for your passions and talent.

 Yes, passion. The first question to ask yourself is what are you passionate about?? Hunger? Education? Animals? Homeless? Substance Abuse? A particular medical condition? One way to start determining your passion is to take a look through your checkbook, and see where you send money. Not because your friend is running a marathon and needs a sponsor, not because the local public radio station has a pledge drive, and not because of guilt, but what tugs on your heartstrings or sense of righteousness enough to tug on your wallet? Are there particular types of causes that you automatically respond to? What makes you write letters to the editor or to the government?

 Next is scope. Decide whether you’re interested in local, regional, national or global efforts. Do you want to be able to walk into a building or park and see the results of your efforts? Or do you want to know you’ve made a difference in a large number of peoples’ lives, even if it’s half a world away Where do you want to make an impact?

 Then investigate. Once you’ve narrowed down the cause and scope, do a little research. Make that a lot of research. Who’s doing work in that field in your area? There are thousands of nonprofits. Ask your friends and coworkers who they know is doing good things in this field; maybe they’re already volunteering at an agency you’d be interested in.

 Call the local United Way, and talk to someone there. Or Catholic Charities. Or the Jewish Federation. Or the local community foundation. Or your clergy. Ask which agencies THEY know of that are doing good things in your chosen cause, and could use your talents.

 Take your time to do this research. Talk to people. Go onto agency websites. Read their form 990s (try to find these nonprofit IRS filings). As you narrow them down, pick up the phone and talk to people at the agencies.

 The next step is sit down for a chat. Let the agencies’ Presidents and/or Executive directors know that you might be interested in helping them, and have a long talk. Don’t COMMIT yet. Do your due diligence. It’s one thing to want to help straighten out a struggling nonprofit that’s having trouble making payroll; it’s entirely another thing to get on the board of an agency and THEN find out it’s a struggling nonprofit that’s having trouble making payroll.

 I’m definitely speaking from experience there!!

 Finally…make the match!

 Yes, it’s time consuming, but definitely worth it. By doing your homework, you’re much more likely to be committed to your cause and willing to put in the time and talent and treasure that will make a difference. You know what you’re getting into. And most importantly, you’ll be giving back to your community and the world.

 Good luck! And let me know how it goes!




One response

13 05 2009
Finding That Nonprofit Career « Thoughtful Philanthropist

[…] a good sense of what kind of nonprofit you want to work for. Similar to advice for getting on a board of directors, you should research the different causes that interest you. Working for a nonprofit is hard work. […]

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