Tips for Young Professionals Joining a Nonprofit Board of Directors

Apr 03, 2014

For many young professionals, the idea of joining a nonprofit board is exciting but also a little scary. It's difficult to know where to start in terms of finding out what's involved, how to join and what to expect. HYPEster Brittney Zieller and staffer Caitlin Thayer have some tips and advice on how to get started and things to think about.

Why should you join a nonprofit board?

Joining a nonprofit board can be a lot of work. Depending on the organization that you're interested in, some boards do a lot of hands on work with their nonprofits. They help to plan events, they assist in fundraising and they work directly with the staff. Joining a board will give you an opportunity to give back to your community in a way that just volunteering for an afternoon doesn't do.

1. Give Back - Many small nonprofits need help in areas like finance and legal, and if you're someone with that kind of expertise, joining their board and assisting in those areas will be invaluable to them.

2. Networking - Being on a board of directors also provides fantastic opportunities for networking, not only with your fellow board members, but also with the community. When you're at a networking event and you say you work in insurance, that might be the end of the conversation. But if you continue to say that you also serve on the board of a particular nonprofit, you may catch someone's interest.

3. Passion - For many young professionals, working for a nonprofit isn't an option due to budgetary concerns. So for someone who has a passion for animals, the environment or for women's rights, joining a board provides an outlet for that passion that a 9-5 job doesn't.

What to expect, and what questions to ask when joining a board.

1. Commitment - When you join a board, be prepared to commit yourself to that organization. Expect to do a lot of work for them. Board members won't be involved in the day to day aspect of the organization, but in the big thinking, strategic planning area of the organization. Be committed to the mission.

2. Bylaws, D&O Insurance - When joining a board, always ask to see the bylaws (make sure they have been updated in the last couple of years) and make sure the board has Directors & Officers Liability Insurance. If something happened in the organization and someone sued the board, you want to make sure that your personal assets are protected.

3. Governance or Hands on? - Ask if the organization's board is strictly governance or is more hands on? Will you be required or asked to attend all of their events, or are you just there for strategic planning and governance? Get a sense of the time commitment they are asking for.

4. Financial contribution or Fundraising requirement? - Almost all boards require some sort of financial contribution from their board members. For grant purposes, boards want 100% participation from their board. Ask whether that means you have to donate a minimum amount each fiscal year, or just donate something. Also ask whether there is a fundraising requirement. For example, will you be required to purchase a table at their gala, or raise $10,000 each fiscal year? All good things to know before joining.

5. Looking for certain types of board members? - We mentioned above that some boards are looking for lawyers, finance people, marketing people; ask if they need someone in a certain area. If they do, ask what kind of assistance they need, and how much time they are looking for from that person.

How do I join a board?

The simplest way is to seek out a nonprofit that you're passionate about, or that you want to learn more about, and ask them. Contact the Executive Director and ask what the process is to join their board. Most of the time, you'll have to submit a resume or information about yourself, meet with the board members, and then the board has to vote you in.

If you're in the Hartford region, you can also contact Leadership Greater Hartford, a wonderful local organization that runs a program called Leaders on Board which helps train people on being board members, and also has a great network of nonprofits looking for new board members. 

Brittney Zieller took Leadership Greater Hartford's Leaders on Board orientation class, and currently sits on The Norfeldt School Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) board.

Caitlin Thayer also went through Leadership Greater Hartford's Leaders on Board program and currently serves on Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity's board of directors.


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