Bored? Try a Board Experience

Volunteering for a nonprofit board may be a rewarding experience, but ask some key questions before joining.Many professionals find they are a desired commodity as potential members of nonprofit boards of directors. This type of community engagement looks great on a resume and is good for your business reputation.

Saying “yes” to a recruiter may result in a rewarding experience. Then again, serving as a volunteer director can be more painful than a root canal. Clearly, there are veterans who are critical of the nonprofit experience.

“Most are just deplorable – wasting precious staff energies and bringing nothing to the board table,” writes author and blogger Bill Freeman. “We need a 'Jack Kevorkian' for nonprofit boards – cutting the oxygen and giving a merciful death since beheading is so old world.”

CFM staff members have volunteered and led important community organizations. We believe serving as a board member is worthwhile, but there is a list of questions you should be prepared to ask:

What is your expected role?

Rather than strictly being a policy decision-making group, some organizations have an activist board. If the professional staff is small, there may be a tendency for the board to be more hands on. There are risks with either model but my experience is being less hands-on is best in the long run. Be sure to ask about the board’s history.

Are you expected to be a fundraiser?

Probably. Some boards recruit members purely on their ability to donate cash, or influence others to contribute. Maybe fundraising is not your bag. Make sure whatever you do makes it possible for the organization to generate revenue, be it gifts, grants, golf hustling or government allocations.

What is the culture?

Once on board, it takes awhile to understand the traditions and culture of a board. Ask questions before joining. Learn the ropes. Then, if need be, find effective ways of pushing back by offering practical advice that will be accepted and not resented. Too much push back on your push backs? Find the exit.

Do you have a community role?

Other than approving the annual budget, setting policy as a group and hiring or firing an executive director, there is no more important role than being a representative of – and to – the community. Find a way of doing this as part of a coordinated plan. Attend community meetings. Meet with funders. Observe consumer panels. Engage in opinion research. But make sure you listen more than speak.

Do you really have the time?

Ask what us expected as a time commitment. Triple that estimate as a more realistic answer. Don’t accept the job if you cannot spare the time

Still want to join the board. Go for it.

Links: Bill Freeman