In keeping with YNPN of Greater Seattle’s February theme of matchmaking, this post is about finding “The One.” And by “The One” I mean “the perfect board member role.”
No matter what sector they work in, many young professionals are interested in joining a nonprofit board. Motivations may range from building your skills and expanding your network, to being asked to join by a friend or colleague, to being passionate about supporting a particular mission or organization. Whatever your motivation may be, Seattle has a plethora of nonprofits (The Seattle Foundation’s website lists nearly 1,700!) and it can be difficult to know where to start.
Most nonprofit organizations have a board recruitment or nomination process that involves an application, and often an interview. You can get a foot in the door by volunteering first--either for a specific project, or on a committee as a non-board member--and this will help you get to know the organization and how it operates a little bit better.
Considerations Before Joining a Nonprofit Board
One of the most important criteria for selecting a nonprofit board is a passion for the mission, and an appreciation for how it is fulfilled. Nonprofit board members have fiduciary and legal responsibilities to the organization, which can come with a material time commitment and getting into the weeds with organizational governance. Make sure that you can you see yourself dedicating your time (likely at least 10-15 hours a month), talent, and resources to the organization.
You should also consider if your strengths, skills, and experiences match the organization’s needs. Many boards actively recruit new members with specific skill sets. Making sure that you can offer what they are looking for not only helps you you add more value and impact to the organization, but also ensures that you will be more meaningfully engaged in your board service.
You will also want to understand the organization’s finances and any financial commitments for board members. Is the organization financially stable, or are there any red flags with significant debts, recent layoffs, or eliminated programs? And does the organization have a “give or get” policy or fundraising expectation for board members?
And lastly, get to know the people! Evaluate whether you think you could work with the others on the board, and with the organization’s leadership. What kind of relationship does the board have with the organization’s Executive Director or CEO? Do they work together to find ways to draw on the strengths of each board member? Informational interviews with key stakeholders are great opportunities to get a glimpse into the organization and its culture.
Resources for Finding Nonprofit Board Positions
BoardnetUSA.org matches individuals interested in board service and nonprofits looking for new board members based on the organization’s mission area and preferred location, and sends a weekly e-mail with organizations looking for prospective board members who fit your profile.
SeattleWorks offers a 1-day board training session several times per year, which provide an overview of the nonprofit sector, an introduction to the financial and legal responsibilities of board members, fundraising strategies and techniques, and an interactive board meeting simulation. Graduates of this program have the opportunity to attend “Board Speed Dating Nights.”
And, of course, word-of-mouth networking! Perhaps at an upcoming YNPN event?