Serving on boards

Aug 12, 2011

Have you ever served on a nonprofit board of directors?

It can be an intimidating experience if you are coming from the business world, or if you’ve simply worked your way up as a volunteer. The economics are different, the client needs are often overwhelming, and your role isn’t always clear.

Yet board service can be among the most rewarding volunteer experiences. You can have a profound impact in an area you are passion about. And your skills are honed by being stretched in a new environment.

For the last five years, we have been playing matchmaker for Amway executives who want to serve on nonprofit boards. Approximately half now serve on boards and committees, with involvement in more than 100 organizations.

Working with the Johnson Center, a university-based nonprofit leadership organization in West Michigan, Amway has offered annual nonprofit board training for those who want to use their leadership skills in the community.

Other companies are beginning to realize the significant impact their leaders can have on nonprofit organizations in their community, while offering leadership development opportunities for their top management.

Last week, we joined colleagues from Greater DC Cares and Time-Warner to talk about our program in a webinar hosted by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

So how do you join a board? Here are a few tips:

Follow your passions. Find a cause you feel strongly about. Otherwise, it’s just another calendar entry in a busy world.

Get connected. Ask to meet with the executive director or another board member to express your interest if you already have a relationship established. Consider doing some general volunteering first to get a feel for the organization and show your commitment before seeking a board position. There is often a nominating committee that chooses board members, and they frequently look at devoted volunteers first.

Set expectations. What do you want out of the experience? What does the board think you will bring to it? Have these frank conversations up front to minimize uncomfortable conversations down the road.

Be committed. This applies not only to meetings, but to being actively engaged. Read materials thoroughly before a meeting and keep connected with other board members. Find a way to bring your skills to the organization – experience in accounting, communications, strategy or just community relationships can be extremely valuable.

Give. While more nonprofits are seeking sustainable income streams, most survive on grants and donations. You should be prepared to give according to your means (some boards require a minimum donation) and don’t be afraid to ask others to contribute.

Leave a comment.
Required fields are marked *

Comments policy: Please note that comments are moderated.
All comments are welcome as long as they are on topic, respectful, and do not advertise competing products or businesses. We reserve the right to remove without warning any and all offensive, unlawful, defamatory, or libelous comments, as well as any personal attacks or offensive language.