They say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Hopefully your relationship with our board isn’t adversarial, but if we’re being honest it’s not uncommon to have challenges! There’s a power differential between staff and the board, especially for staff further removed from the board. But when you join a nonprofit board, you can interact as a peer. It can be exciting to have an outlet to share expertise and knowledge that aren’t being taken into account at your day job and have a chance to actively contribute to the kinds of decisions you don’t get to participate in at work. And the expertise you have as a professional in the field can help make those decisions better ones.
I’ve served on several boards, and each one has been challenging and rewarding in its own way. I believe my experience in the sector has made me a more effective board member, and my experience as a volunteer has made me a much better professional.
In the spirit of Global Community Engagement Day, here are 4 reasons you might consider to join a nonprofit board:
1. You love the mission.
Whatever the rest of your reasons, this must be at least one of your motivations to join a nonprofit board. First and foremost, if you’re going to devote your time and energy, it has to be to a cause that means something to you. Without reading ahead to the other reasons board service can be valuable to you, this should resonate. You chose to work in the nonprofit sector, so you are probably passionate about at least one cause. Serving on a board is a way to play a significant role in solving a problem in the world that matters to you.
2. You want to practice new skills.
Sometimes there just isn’t a good opportunity in your current role to get all the experience that you’ll want for your next role. Serving on a board can be an opportunity to fill in those gaps.
I’ll share an example of this from my own life. At one point, I was in a role where I had no hand in writing appeals, but wanted to demonstrate my ability to do so, as well as build a portfolio for future job interviews. I volunteered for the fundraising committee at a small nonprofit with no development professionals on staff, and offered to draft a few fundraising appeals. It was valuable to them because I had more expertise than they had available on staff, and it was beneficial to me because it allowed me to gain experience I would need later in my career.
3. You want to make new connections.
Sometimes, the people you serve alongside on a board may be fantastic connections. Some of my closest friends today are people who I initially met when serving on a board together. I’ve also met mentors and mentees this way. Some boards foster an incredible sense of community, and what better way to get into the spirit on Global Community Engagement Day. There was one point in my life where I was wrestling with a new medical diagnosis and the first time I shared what I was going through was in a meeting with a board I was then serving on, because they were a group who made space for that and they were exactly who I needed at that time.
4. You have big thoughts on what nonprofit work should look like.
On a board, you can work from a place of power to impact not just the organization, but the sector. There are a lot of conversations happening at professional conferences, on blogs and in webinars, in research publications, on social media, and anywhere else nonprofit professionals connect right now about how we operate and why. Perhaps you listen to some of the thought leaders advocating for doing things in new ways and think, “yeah, let’s try that!” but aren’t in a position at work to make it happen.
If you aren’t in a senior enough role in your day job to affect the kind of change you want to in your organization, serving on a board where you do have that kind of influence can be an outlet for you to act as a change agent. Speaking from experience, it feels gratifying to move the needle from a board seat, especially when it isn’t possible to do so at work.
If these motivate you and you have the time to spare, start looking for a board to join today — on Global Community Engagement Day — or any day. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE, SMS is an experienced fundraising professional with a passion for learning, teaching, and building community. She works as a coach and consultant with nonprofits across the US and Canada to build sustainable individual giving programs and write great communications. A lifelong learner, she holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis as well as the CFRE certification and a social media strategist (SMS) certification from the National Institute for Social Media, and is now pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Missouri - St. Louis and expects to complete her dissertation in 2023. Sarah can be reached at [email protected]