Be a great–not just good–board member

September 20, 2011

Are you a member of a nonprofit board of directors? Or, have you been approached by a member of a board, but aren’t quite sure if you want to take on this commitment?

In my 20-plus years of nonprofit experience, I’ve been privy to (and have led) a great deal of board meetings, retreats and workshops, and have served on a number of boards myself. Oh, how they vary! The effectiveness of boards can range from general apathy (“WHY oh why am I here?) to outstanding, motivated groups of people (YAY! I love this organization!) who achieve amazing things.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you want to be a great–not just good–board member:

1. Are you clear about your motivation in becoming a board member? Do you want to be a leader in your community? Do you just love the mission of the organization and want to help it grow? Do you have specific skills (fundraising, marketing, law, finance, etc.) that you want to offer the organization? Effective boards are comprised of people who know why the are there and what they can offer.

2. Are you dedicated to the mission of the organization? No one is going to ask you to be the type of person who jumps out of bed every morning, aching to get to a board meeting. But are you so excited about the nonprofit that you talk about it with family, friends and colleagues? Are you willing to recruit new members for the board?

3. Are you an innovative, creative thinker? The best boards have people who can think outside the box. They create new fundraisers, do unique, interesting methods of outreach and are willing to go outside their comfort zones in order to make “asks”–for money, for in-kind donations, for, well, just about anything that the organization needs. (I’ve watched board members ask local hardware stores for wood for scenery and bakeries for donuts to approaching bank presidents for corporate sponsorships of up to 50K a year). Can you do this?

4. Do you have the time to devote to the board? Usually, at the very least, this means quarterly meetings that can last a few hours. Sometimes boards meet once a month. Imagine the good you can do in the time it would take to drive to a theater, order popcorn, watch a movie and get home! Of course, great board members volunteer a great many more hours to the organization than just attending board meetings. Just like in life, ‘anything worth anything’ takes work. Are you up to the challenge?

5. Do you have money to donate to the organization? Now, the amount of money that board members donate varies greatly depending upon the size of the organization and the ability of the board member to give. I’ve seen board members write checks for $10 and others for 10K. Generally speaking, a board member is expected to give something and each year increase that donation by 25%. And just so you know, for most grant proposals, 100% board giving is required.

It can be extremely rewarding knowing that your efforts as a board member are furthering the mission of a nonprofit organization. The boards are often the very heartbeat of a nonprofit. The next time you get asked to be a board member–or you hear of an organization that could use some help–I hope you’ll “get on board”.

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