Chamber Chat - Nonprofit Boards

Apr 22

By Meg Moss


Serving on a nonprofit board is no small thing. You become an ambassador for the organization. You help set the strategic direction for an organization. And you take on a responsibility to help an organization fulfill its mission.


Service on a nonprofit board of directors is an important part of community involvement. Effective board work is not just a question of showing up. It demands having a strong personal belief and interest in an organization and its mission.


Often times, people think you have to “write the big check” in order to serve on a board, and while a financial contribution of some amount is generally expected, the inability to make a major financial gift is not a disqualifier. Non-monetary support and contributions are sometimes just as impactful as cutting a check. Providing leadership, sharing expertise, supporting events, volunteering, and other efforts to support staff are also valuable to the overall growth and effectiveness of an organization.


Board membership is a great way for emerging young leaders to get involved in our community. Board service can sometimes seem inaccessible, particularly for younger professionals or those not already engaged in nonprofit work. But there are lots of ways to get your foot in the door. Volunteering for an event or helping with fundraising for an organization are good ways to learn more and get involved. Additionally, many organizations have spots open for community members to serve on project-specific committees, which often require less time, are temporary, and give you an opportunity to see if you really want to serve on that organization’s board, and to see if you are right fit.


Recently, the Chamber’s Leadership Sanford class discussed board service with Kendra Martin, Executive Director of the United Way of Lee County. She shared insightful questions that anyone should ask an organization before joining its board. It can be, after all, a big obligation. Some questions to ask organization leadership, whether it be the CEO, or other board members, are, what is the organization’s mission, and how do its programs relate to the mission? Who are the organization’s clients or constituents? Is the organization financially sound? Do they have a job description for board members? This is a particularly good question to ask so that you know “what you are getting yourself into”. You wouldn’t accept a job without a job description, and I don’t suggest you accept a position on a nonprofit board without a job description either.


Some additional questions to ask: What is the time commitment involved? Don’t let anyone fool you by saying “we only meet once a month for an hour.” If that’s truly the case, it’s not a very involved or effective board, so you’ll want to reconsider your desire to be involved. What orientation and training will I receive? The onboarding process is very important so that you fully understand the mission and programs of the organization so that you can be an ambassador for the nonprofit, and so that you can make informed strategic decisions.


There are certain duties that are associated with board membership. According to Martin, those are the Duties of Care, Obedience and Loyalty.


You must take an active interest in the nonprofit's activities, act reasonably and in the best interests of the nonprofit, and act honestly and with common sense and informed judgment. You must be faithful to the mission of the nonprofit, and comply with all applicable laws and reporting requirements.


The duty of loyalty addresses the faithfulness of the board and its members. The board members must put the interests of the nonprofit ahead of their own agendas and interests and must avoid any self-dealing. In order to ensure that the duty of loyalty is met, it is important for a nonprofit board to establish and enforce an appropriate conflict-of-interest policy.


Lee County is rich with nonprofit organizations. Most boards have term limits, meaning that these organizations are consistently seeking out and recruiting new board members. Do you have the desire and the passion it takes to serve on a board? Please call me at 919-775-7341 x 1502 and I can help connect you with a nonprofit that is accepting board applications.

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