Joining a nonprofit board may be one of those career goals that, like increasing your 401(k) contribution, you’ve decided to put off until later – when it’s convenient and it works with your Netflix schedule.
That is, it’s not exactly top priority.
But there are myriad advantages to serving on a board early on in your career. And unlike increasing your 401(k) contribution, serving on a nonprofit board can actually be an enjoyable experience.
Whether you’re passionate about providing meals to the underserved or empowering girls in your community, serving on a nonprofit board is a prime opportunity to give back and to build your leadership skills.
My first opportunity to serve on a local board grew out of my passion for the cause and several years of volunteer work for the organization. A board position opened, the executive director asked me if I was interested and I said yes. It was a perfect opportunity to learn about the inner workings of a nonprofit and to work with professionals from across the community. I am now serving on a different board of directors and continue to see the benefits from both a professional and personal perspective.
Nonprofit boards are often looking for engaged community members from a cross-section of industries and demographics – including age, gender and area of expertise – to fill board positions.
A board of directors plays a crucial role in an organization, including protecting the company’s mission, overseeing the organization’s financial and legal well-being, and organizing fundraising efforts. For more details on the legal duties and responsibilities of the board, the National Council of Nonprofits is your bible.
If you think you lack the business acumen to serve on a board, don’t worry. Most boards will pair new members with a mentor on the board. He or she can explain the frequency of board meetings, financial commitments or other terms before you officially agree to serve on the board.
The personal and professional fulfillment you’ll get from this commitment will make it worth your attention. Here are five top reasons to serve on a board in 2018:
1. It allows you to invest in your community.
If you’re passionate about a cause in your community, serving on the organization’s board allows you the chance to give back in a different capacity.
Serving on my first board of directors shifted my perspective of the organization from a micro to a macro point of view. As a board member, I had insight into the organization’s bottom line and had the opportunity to consider relocation plans and redesign the organization’s main fundraiser. As a board member, you’ll be part of a group of decision-makers and can influence the current and future shape of the organization.
2. You’ll build your network.
Serving on a nonprofit board will introduce you to individuals across your city’s business community. It’s a chance to not only meet professionals from outside your place of employment but also learn how to work with a variety of people.
3. You’ll gain a new skillset.
Nonprofit experience gives you a chance to learn about business aspects beyond the work in your day job. As a communications professional, my skillset primarily revolves around storytelling and project management. My current board position has given me the chance to develop financial and fundraising expertise.
You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about pivotal community issues, such as housing or economic development. Have a growth mindset while serving on a board and you’ll benefit greatly.
4. You can learn to perfect the art of persuasion.
As a board member, part of your responsibility is to be an advocate for the cause. That includes supporting the organization both financially and promoting the organization in your social circles.
Being an active board member has forced me to overcome my anxiety of asking people to financially support the organization. As a board member, you’ll learn how to make those important asks and how to best tell the organization’s story to encourage people to donate.
5. You’ll grow as a leader.
Serving on a board offers a blank slate from your day-to-day business environment to practice your communication and leadership skills. You’ll work with professionals from a variety of backgrounds, giving you the chance to hone your leadership skills.
Ready to get started? First, consider causes in your community that you are passionate about. Look at specific organizations’ websites or national websites like Bridgespan or boardnetUSA for opportunities, recommends BoardSource. Ask the executive directors of those boards individually if they are looking for board members. Also check with your network or local business association for organizations that may be looking for new board members.
If the board thinks you’d be a good fit, you can research the opportunity more before you’re voted in.
Before joining a board, nonprofit professional Rebecca Andruszka from the Muse recommends that you look into an organization’s mission and how it is fulfilled. Consider following these steps:
- Talk with the executive director about the financial state of the organization.
- Request a copy of the budget, a recent balance sheet, and statement of financial activities. Get to know the board and senior staff in the organization.
- Check with your employer before you sign on. That said, many employers are supportive and even encourage employees to serve on boards.
Add nonprofit board experience to your 2018 career plan to not only be more fulfilled in your life but also gain expertise that will help you in your career journey.
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