As a member of the Next Stage team and experienced board member, I often receive inquiries about how to become a part of a board. How do you find a good fit and learn the right tools? Today’s blog is all about my own journey with boards, along with some tips on becoming a great board member yourself.

My Board Journey

My board journey started with the Junior League of Charlotte’s Get On Board Training. I attended the very first training session to learn about board involvement and gain knowledge on topics such as Board Roles and Responsibilities, Strategic Planning, Engagement, Fundraising, Fiduciary Responsibilities, and Impact Evaluation. The room was filled with JLC members and non-members and created a foundational learning environment for experts to cover key topics and a safe space for participants to fully engage and ask questions. Once the training was complete, the goal was to take respective interests and match them with a nonprofit(s) seeking aligned qualifications.

Many received board assignments right away, and I eventually received mine with a nonprofit that focused on literacy-based initiatives – a personal passion of mine. Since that time, I’ve served on several boards geared toward education and literacy, including the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation, Parent Child +, South Charlotte Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., Sugar Creek Charter School, and others. Get On Board was the introduction and entry point to my board service for which I’m deeply grateful.

Four Questions About Boards

In addition to my own service, I reached out to a few community leaders to inquire further, and they shared the following tips for joining a board – and being a great board member:

How does board representation help/support a nonprofit institution?

  • A nonprofit’s board is a direct reflection of what the organization embodies. Board members are an extension of the organization’s brand, and ideally, a board member’s profile should positively amplify the mission and vision of the organization. 
  • Diverse representation is critical to support the work of the nonprofit. It’s also beneficial for a few board members to have knowledge, lived experiences, or ties to the mission to help determine or clarify what’s exactly needed and share a different perspective.

What characteristics are you looking for as it relates to board membership?

  • Nonprofits today need to have board members with a myriad of talents – Human Resources and Organizational Strengthening, Finance, Information Technology, Communication & Marketing, Fundraising, Strategic Planning, Data Analysis, and Legal. Some of these skills are needed in order for nonprofits to be successful for operational support.
  • Having consistent and authentic engagement with attendance, event participation, and networking, exuding a passion for the organization’s cause, and being intentional to advance the mission and engage with business and community connections are essential and valuable.

What are ways to best prepare and position a new or existing board member?

  • Onboarding, ongoing training, and board retreats are some ways to help new and existing members. Another way to help existing board members is to have an annual meeting with the Executive Director or CEO.
  • It’s also important to pair new board members with an existing board member who is engaged and willing to share pertinent information that could help them integrate successfully to the board.
  • Other examples specific to new board members include shadowing the staff, reviewing financial statements, and reading testimonials and narrative stories that have great impact for services. For existing board members, stay abreast of the strategic plan initiatives and be a resource for challenges and opportunities.

When asked, “What are 1-3 things that you wish every board member knew?,” several themes emerged that I believe are helpful for people considering board service:

  • Consider the expectations before you join.
    What are board obligations and expectations around the goals and objectives of the organization? Are you willing to leverage your social capital and networks for strategic, fundraising, and volunteer purposes?
  • Think about your willingness and ability to commit time and resources.
    What is the financial commitment to be on the board? What is truly the length of the board term? If you become an executive member, the length of term is usually extended. What is the REAL time commitment for the board outside of board obligations such as committee meetings, program attendance, exhibit openings, etc.?
  • Know the organization – and make sure that you have strong value-alignment.
    Have a deep understanding of how the organization provides its services and program offerings, and know that service is more than financial contributions. For example, who are the benefactors and what are the future plans? Also, know the elevator speech and be able to fully communicate what the organization does.

If you’re interested in learning more about board engagement, here are a few local sources that are helpful in preparing individuals for boards to check out that may be useful:

ASC offers cultural leadership training geared to supporting local arts organizations. The training is known to be competitive and expects full participation for nine monthly sessions. Also, fees are required to participate.

ULCCYP enlists young professionals (ages 21-40) who are willing to serve and give their time and resources to create collective impact in the community. The organization has membership requirements that apply not only to ULCC but also to the National Urban League that’s beneficial. 

Although Women’s Impact Fund is primarily focused on philanthropic endeavors in the community through the Arts & Culture, Education, Environment, Health, & Human Services, the organization does provide a valuable source of understanding nonprofits. With their membership model, committees help to uphold the organizational structure along with robust learning opportunities. 

There are many nonprofit organizations who are seeking new board members, particularly around the beginning of each annual or fiscal year because of the board term commitment. Thus, I encourage you to connect with organizations that may interest you and inquire about their board selection process and guidelines.

And if you are a nonprofit seeking great board members, consider communicating your needs through your communication and your network channels. You never know who might be interested – and who might be a great fit!