Nonprofit organizations are constantly looking for experienced, talented board members to govern their work and serve as a “brain trust” to the agency and its leadership.  It’s no surprise to us that CSR clients often serve on boards or are invited to join them.

But what are some things you should consider before joining a board of directors?  In an ideal world, the nonprofit has given a candidate all the information they need to make the decision upon extending the invitation, but – just in case – you should ask the agency and yourself a few questions:

  1. What are the mission and work of the organization? It’s important to support what the agency is seeking to accomplish.  Am I passionate about the cause?  Am I interested in learning more and lending my time and expertise to their efforts?
  2. Why me? Understand why they want YOU in particular.  Do I bring specialized skills and experience that the board is currently lacking, e.g. marketing, legal, finance/accounting, nonprofit management expertise?  Is it my connections to potential funding resources and/or community partners?
  3. What are the expectations of your board members? Be clear on how much time and energy you’ll be spending in your board member role.  When and how often does the board meet and for how long?  Is there a financial obligation for board members?  Am I expected to serve on a committee and/or attend special or volunteer events?  How much time can I expect to spend on board-related work in between meetings?
  4. What’s in it for members? It may sound selfish, but there are only 24 hours in a day.  We all have to pick and choose where we spend our time and talents.  Does serving on this board offer me meaningful impact in a cause that’s important to me?  Will I have the opportunity to meet and work with people of professional or personal interest?

If you decide you do have the interest BUT don’t have the time, consider asking if there’s a different opportunity with the nonprofit.  Could you serve on a committee?  Do they have an Advisory Board?  These volunteer positions often require less time but allow you to offer your expertise to a cause that’s important to you.  The role still offers you exposure to the agency’s work, staff, and volunteers.  You may decide board membership is a fit down the road.

If you simply don’t have the interest, it’s ok.  Leave the spot open for someone better suited for it.  Perhaps you can recommend a friend or colleague you know that’s committed to their mission.  Still want to serve on a board?  Research and contact nonprofits working for change in a cause for which you do have a passion.

Board membership is not a decision to take lightly.  If you do opt to serve, commit to better the organization via your gifts of time, talent, and treasure.  Enjoy the chance to be a part of something important.

Betsy Wallace
Betsy is committed to strategic growth and leadership strategies for small businesses. Prior to joining the CSR team and founding E. Wallace Strategies, Betsy was a Senior Relationship Manager with NeighborWorks America, the country’s preeminent leader in affordable housing and community development. In her nineteen years with NeighborWorks, Betsy consulted with network members developing growth strategies and sustaining partnerships, collaborations, and alliances to expand their impact in communities across the United States. She honed almost two decades of expertise in organizational development, executive transition, program evaluation, and governance as well. Betsy co-managed and served as a Coach for NeighborWorks America’s national Excellence in Governance program and served on the Faculty of the NeighborWorks Training Institute.