Have you ever wondered what it takes to join a nonprofit board? Many desire to join one, and for good reason. In fact, joining a board is an essential way to build senior leadership skills. I even recommend one join a board as early on as possible to gain momentum in their career.
So what does it take to actually become a board member?
The truth is, exceptional board members are hard to find. Nonprofits, especially, are under intense pressure to meet relentless fundraising demands and the often burdensome needs of the community. More importantly, they are expected to take on these needs with little to no resources, limited staff, and few volunteers.
Nonprofits rely heavily on board members to help them thrive through their know-how and connections. This is why it takes a core set of skills and acumen to land a seat on an influential nonprofit board.
The qualifications of an all-star board member really boil down to two things, ability and responsibility. Here is a breakdown of how to show strength in each area.
Know Your Numbers – One of the biggest skills nonprofit boards need is strong financial skills. The magic is in the numbers, which is why it’s important to know how to read a P&L and balance sheet. This allows you as the board member to identify investment strategies, program effectiveness and overall impact. It also plays a key role in holding the organization accountable to its goals.
Leadership Skills – Organizations need leaders who have compassion and vision beyond what the nonprofit is doing today. They need leaders who are going to be fully invested and step up when they’re needed most. Board membership is so much more than attending a meeting and being prepared. It requires having a point of view and challenging the conversations in the meeting to be as well-rounded as they should be. It’s about having great questions, investing time in that organization, and having a point of view that’s informed.
Resources and Knowledge – Time, intellect and money are core assets of nonprofit board members. You need to have the time capacity to serve the organization monthly, quarterly, etc. This may require traveling out of your own pocket to attend meetings. You need to also have the intellect needed to help strengthen the organization’s blind spots. And finally, you need to either give or have access to financial resources that will help the organization flourish. This can be in the form of giving out of your own means, having your company sponsor an annual event, or connecting their leadership to philanthropic resources.
You’re not a ‘Figurehead’ – Being a part of a board is more than just rubber-stamping approvals and granting permissions. The best board members have a strong sense of responsibility to ensure the organization’s success. It’s important to take the time to really learn the wiring of an organization, it’s capabilities and the needs of those it supports.
It took me time to realize my responsibility as a board member was not just to come in, read the minutes, be prepared and vote. I had to advocate for their cause and the people they serve.
The Innovator’s Mindset – The strongest, most influential board members go in with a passion for the cause and a willingness to challenge the status quo in a way that is non-threatening, respectful and effective. It’s not your job to be a ‘friend’ to the executive team. Instead, it’s your responsibility to challenge the organization’s thinking, the sustainability of the organization and the effectiveness the programs they deliver – ‘What is the most strategic way to increase awareness for the organization? How will their fundraising strategy result in impact-driven execution? Can the executive director handle the job?’
A Drive for Passion – Last but certainly not least, it’s essential to find a board that aligns with your passions. Learn about the mission and its stated priorities. Who are the executives, board members, etc.? If you don’t know anybody, go to a meeting or an event. Go there to learn. You can also learn more about board membership through your city’s chamber of commerce or resources like Board Source. Board Source does phenomenal research about nonprofit boards, the role of an effective board member, and can help you be strategic in selecting a board that fits your development needs.