Thinking About Serving on a Nonprofit Board? Why You Should Consider It

by Kristin Holland
When I started my nonprofit career almost two years ago, one of the questions I often asked my mentor was, “How do I get an entry-level job when even those positions require experience that I don’t have yet?” It seemed impossible to develop skills unique to nonprofits (ahem, fundraising) without being given the opportunity to actually work for a nonprofit.
Her answer to my dilemma? Serve on a board.
Serving on a board is a great way to gain experience. At YNPN’s “Get Hired” event, nonprofit hiring managers told participants that experience doesn’t always have to come from a paid position; it can come from volunteering or board service. Since most volunteer opportunities are with a nonprofit’s programs, sitting on a Board of Directors is an especially great option if you want a position in a more operational area like resource development or communications.
But board service isn’t something you do just to boost your resume. Board members have legal and financial responsibilities to the organization, and it’s important you have a good understanding of what this means before you accept a board position. Here are some things to keep in mind as you’re considering board service.
Be realistic with yourself.  Overcommitting or stretching yourself too thin isn’t fair to you or the organizations you’re serving. Remember that quality of service is more important than quantity. Starting out, I would recommend no more than two boards and only one leadership position at a time.
Do your homework. Before you join a board, learn about the organization. Talk to another board member or some of the staff. Ask if they have a board member job description or commitment form so you understand the expectations set for you.
Find an organization whose mission you believe in. There are over 18,000 nonprofits in Oklahoma and plenty of opportunities to share your time and talent. Find one you really care about—it will be so much more rewarding.
You actually have to show up to board meetings. The Board of Directors needs you there in order to vote. If you know the board meets on Thursday evenings and you have a regular conflict, don’t join that board!
Remember that you are the “face” of the organization. Inside and outside of the board room. Be prepared to talk about the amazing work your organization is doing to friends, family, and colleagues.
Consider your ability to give financially. Board members should give of their time, talent, and treasure. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, but you should be prepared to donate to the organization. If you’re wondering why this part is so important, ask yourself this, “If an organization’s board members do not believe in the mission and programs enough to donate money, why would anyone else?” And be sure to ask if the organization has a minimum gift requirement so you don’t wind up in an awkward situation later on!
Interested in finding a board? Learn about some options here. Want more training in board service? Check out the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Training Calendar.