Editor’s Note: For those of you that missed our 9/8/15 event ‘Before a You Join a Board,’ YNPN Denver guest blogger Raven Newberry has written a nice recap of what to consider before joining a nonprofit board.
For many young nonprofit professionals, joining a board is a major goal. Taking on such a role can deepen your connection with a community and a mission, while also offering leadership and networking opportunities.
A lack of knowledge of board requirements may hold some back from joining, while others may jump in without proper due diligence. While neither scenario is ideal, the latter can become stressful and potentially legally dicey. How do you know if a board appointment is going to be a good fit? The following tips can give you a good starting place for getting a read on the organization and determining whether or not to accomplish that goal
1) Volunteer with the organization.
If possible, take time to volunteer with the nonprofit. This is one of the best ways to get to know an organization and for an organization to get to know you. Volunteering gives you a better understanding of how a nonprofit operates on the ground level. More importantly, this will give you time to determine if the organization’s mission aligns with your own values. Holding a board position requires time and energy, so you need to make sure your heart will be in it.
2) Do due diligence on the organization’s finances.
It is helpful to get a better understanding of a nonprofit’s financial situation before joining their board. An organization’s 990- the annual report most federally tax-exempts organizations must file- is a great place to start. You can find most 990’s on GuideStar or you could even request this information directly from the organization. Keep a careful eye for anything amiss or anything that needs to be clarified. Board members can be held personally liable in lawsuits against nonprofits, so make sure you feel comfortable with their operations. Ask if the organization provides Directors and Officers Liability insurance to protect board members in the event of any faced legal action. Board insurance helps protect your organization’s mission and your personal assets.
3) Ask about the board’s structure.
Does their board have commitment terms? If so, how long? Are there any sub-committees? Are board members expected to make a financial contribution or reach a fundraising quota? Make sure you know the details, so you know what to expect.
4) See how your skills fit in.
Are you a savvy accountant or bookkeeper? Maybe you could offer advice on their program evaluation or fundraising campaigns? What skills are you bringing to the table and what does the organization need? Joining a nonprofit board can also help in strengthening a skill you might not use at your day job. Think critically about what you want to do, what you can do, and how it could strengthen the nonprofit’s mission.
Serving as a board member should be a wonderful, enriching experience. Doing proper investigation before joining ensures you can concentrate fully on furthering the mission