“I would really like to serve on a nonprofit board of directors,” Hector said sheepishly. “But do you think anyone would want me?” Hector was a young professional working as a relationship manager in a local bank.
He had asked to meet with me to find out if I thought he would be able to join a nonprofit board. I knew right away that this was exactly the type of board member many nonprofits were looking for.
My meeting with Hector was five years ago and, today, more boards than ever are realizing the wisdom of diversifying their membership by recruiting young professionals with a wide range of skills, ethnic diversity, and connections to the recipients of service within the community.
In fact, many funding sources for nonprofits are requiring a higher level of diversification on boards of nonprofits they fund. In addition, organizations are realizing that their boards can make better, more informed decisions if the board is partially comprised of individuals representative of the clientele they serve.
Many young professionals are beginning to realize that nonprofit boards want to recruit them.
And they have lots of good questions.
- Why should I consider joining a board?
- How much time will it require?
- What are the financial expectations?
- How do I choose which board to join?
These are all good questions. The answers may mean that some nonprofit boards will have to rethink some of their long-time practices. Other boards will want to incorporate some of these concerns into their recruitment and onboarding processes if they are serious about attracting diverse members.
I will share with you some highlights from an article I read recently on BoardSource. They point out that “serving on a board is a wonderful way to support a cause that you care about. But it also can be a powerful way to build your own skills and expertise.
“Individuals who serve on a board have the opportunity to develop and grow as leaders, cultivate new skill sets, and expand their network of peers, professionals, community leaders, and community thought leaders.”
This article suggests four questions for potential board members to consider.
>>What type of experience is most fulfilling for you?
Board service is a form of volunteerism that can have a huge impact on the organization, but if you think that your sense of personal fulfillment requires a more hands-on volunteer opportunity, you might want to inquire about direct-service volunteering opportunities in the organization instead of board service.
>>How much time are you willing to put into board work?
Board members are legally required to fulfill their fiduciary duties, which will require you to devote a considerable amount of time to the organization. The amount of time varies greatly by organization, but simply planning to attend the board meetings is not sufficient. Board members must be willing to regularly review financial statements and meeting materials, and many board members will need to prepare for and attend at least one committee meeting in addition to board meetings.
>>Are you willing to collaborate with others on a regular basis or would you prefer to work alone?
Boards are teams of committed and engaged individuals who work together to govern the organization. If you prefer to work alone, then board service may not be the right way for you to work with the organization. Consider providing pro bono professional services or direct-service volunteering as alternatives to board service.
>>Do you have the willingness and the ability to assist a nonprofit organization with fundraising?
One of the primary responsibilities of the board is to ensure that the organization has adequate financial resources to carry out its mission. Many organizations have a fundraising policy for board members. These policies typically request board members to contribute personally. Some boards require a minimum level of personal contribution, many others do not set a specific amount but still expect some level of donation.
Commonly, these policies also stipulate that all board members participate in the organization’s fundraising effort in some fashion. Connections and introductions to donors, participation in fundraising events, personal notes on solicitation and thank-you letters, and direct solicitations are just a few of the ways in which board members can make a difference in terms of fundraising success.
The amount of involvement in fundraising varies greatly by organization, but prior to serving on a board, make sure that you will be comfortable making a personal contribution and asking others to contribute to the organization.
BoardSource recommends that after evaluating these four questions, potential board members take their readiness quiz to find out if you are ready to serve on a board.
BoardSource suggests these four steps to guide you through the recruitment process.
- Find your passion.
- Identify board opportunities.
- Connect with a nonprofit board.
- Be an exceptional board member.
Recently, I have been helping young professionals decide whether to serve on nonprofit boards and I have also been assisting nonprofit boards find diverse board members. It is a daunting experience for some and invigorating for others.
Young professionals are not used to thinking about themselves as board members and nonprofits are not used to looking outside their typical sphere of influence for board members. But the commitment to embrace change seems to be strong. Once people figure out they must be willing to break away from their usual way of operating, they become inspired by new possibilities.
Teresa Alvarez, Executive Director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project and a Founding Member of the Santa Barbara Latino Giving Circle, has been eager to investigate the new frontier of board membership for herself and for her friends and colleagues in the Latino Giving Circle.
“Young professionals, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), are ready to contribute their knowledge and life experience to causes they care about but don’t know where to start. We are often overlooked because of our age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, but often we have great insight into the needs of the community and extensive networks. What we need is an invitation and that time is now, advises Alvarez.”
Katya Armistead, Co-Facilitator of the Emerging Leaders Program with Leading From Within, is also encouraging young professionals to consider the benefits of joining a nonprofit board.
“There is no better time to include our younger leaders on our boards so that we are best prepared to fully serve our community’s needs. Their world view, experience, and passion are what is needed to help address some of our biggest challenges going forward, says Armistead.”
If you know a young professional who would like to find out more about serving on a nonprofit board of directors, please invite them to contact me. Likewise, if you know of a nonprofit that would like for me to help them find diverse board members, please invite them to contact me.