The team at Starfish Impact is often asked to by nonprofits to help them find good Board members, and by individuals to help them find meaningful Board positions. We love being the connector and are always happy to connect our friends. (In fact, contact us here if you fall into either of those categories.) But we also are asked a lot of the same questions by younger professionals who are looking to join their first nonprofit Board. In this post, we are sharing the three questions that we always ask to start these conversations with young professionals ready to join a nonprofit Board.
- Why are you looking to join a Board? There’s no wrong answer to this, not even to say for business development. Many Board members benefit professionally from their nonprofit associations but there’s a fine line to walk. The Board role is primarily a giving role where the Board member is giving of their time, expertise, network, and finances. As long as you are contributing and maintain a professional demeanor in all of your interactions, it is less likely to be a problem if your conversations with fellow Board members dance between the nonprofit and business. Just keep it natural, don’t force or push conversations, and be mindful of the environment – board meetings aren’t great places to catch up on business, but receptions following them can be. Other reasons we frequently hear are: to find meaning in the day to day; to show community commitment and involvement to your employers; to demonstrate values in action for children; and a desire to help the nonprofit do its work more effectively or advance the cause. The one answer that is a red flag for us is a blank stare to this question. If you can’t explain why you want to be on the Board, then you likely haven’t given any enough thought to what it looks like, and more importantly, what it entails.
- Why this organization or cause? This follows the preceding question in that we like to see that the individual cares about the nonprofit’s mission and vision and is therefore organically vested in its success. There is not a secret answer or a necessary sophisticated response – we just like to see individuals connect the dots as to why this cause and then therefore why this nonprofit. Some answers are simple: “It weighs on my heart when I see homelessness in our community and I have decided I should start being active in helping reduce homelessness.” Some answers are personal: “I was affected by this same condition as a child, and want to give back to the organization that helped me get through it.” And some answers are driven by religion or morality: “I believe it’s my obligation to give back to community causes that lift children and families.” Again, there’s no right or wrong answer or type of answer. There just has to be one!
- Are you prepared to dedicate yourself and your resources to help advance the organization? We occasionally find that younger professionals that haven’t been involved at the volunteer leadership level with nonprofits may not fully understand the responsibility that comes with being on a Board. In fact, many don’t even realize there are financial liabilities for Directors and Trustees, and fortunately, Directors and Officers insurance that should be in place (and at the proper level commensurate with the risk, size, etc. of the organization) to protect them. We ask this question to ensure that individuals are willing to dedicate not only their time, which can be significant, but also open their rolodex and wallets in the position. Because a Board position is a giving role, we find that individuals must really feel passionately about the nonprofit that they have selected. When this is the case, Board positions feel like opportunities rather than responsibilities.
Are you thinking about joining a nonprofit Board? Or ready to reassess your current Board commitments? If you need a friendly thought partner to think through some of these questions, reach out to us here, or feel free to share your thoughts on this piece at @StarfishMarta.
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