How To Join a Non-Profit Board

As the Vice President of the The Arc Montgomery’s Board of Directors, and Chair of the Governance Committee, I’m always looking for new recruits. Many of my contacts have joining a non-profit board as an opportunity their looking for on LinkedIn, but not many seem to know where to start. I count myself as having been one of those, and below is a primer.

Start with some soul-searching – what are you truly passionate about and what are your strengths. The passion is what will carry you through the times of self-doubt when the bureaucracy may seem impossible to surmount; and your strengths are how you will sell yourself to the organization. When you’ve identified your passion start exploring organizations who share it. The first thing to do after identifying an organization is research it. Who is currently on the board. What is the organization’s mission and vision? How do the financials look (the GuideStar website is a great resource for this – Form 990s).

Volunteer, join a committee – many organizations will list the committees on their website, or you can connect through the organization’s volunteer coordinator. Make sure you understand what, if any, the expected commitments will be in time and money. Take your time, and when you feel you’ve found a good fit submit an application (the application can be found on the organization’s website). Through volunteering and serving on a committee you’ve doubtlessly formed a few relationships, don’t be afraid to ask an existing Board or Staff member to sponsor you.

The Value of Time

How many of us have either heard somebody say, or said themselves, there’s just not enough time in a day? I’m sure most of us would agree it can be difficult to meet deadlines, fulfill obligations and still have time for yourself, but what can you do? First – acknowledge that a perfect work/life balance may never occur; life happens. Your children will get sick and deadlines will be moved up. But there are tools you can put in place to simplify your life and “buy” back your time.

Make a list of what you would like to accomplish each day. Making the list should be the last thing you do the day before, so you’re not feeling rushed and you can reflect on what you’ve accomplished. To get yourself started do the first one on a Saturday or Sunday. Be realistic – use your work day as the guide and give yourself reasonable timelines for each task. If you list 5 items, and each takes 3 hours to complete, it’s not likely you’re going to get them all done. Be okay with knowing things are going to slide, but identify which items are “must do’s”. Some examples are standing meetings, revenue producers, and employer’s expectations. Use a tracking system – I like to line out what I’ve accomplished and highlight what will be moved to the next day. At the end of the day review your list – what did you learn? Did you find yourself doing “busy” work because it was easier? Were there many “oh by the ways”? This identifies opportunities for improvement and ways to win back your time.

Teach What You Tolerate

We’re business people, communication is at the core of our livelihoods – we all recognize this yet so many of us let things slide because we’re afraid of offending someone or are concerned how it will impact our business and/or professional relationship(s). Now, I’m not suggesting you make a major production of every little thing; but speak up when something bothers you. Otherwise you have nobody to blame but yourself when the behavior continues. The individual is most likely not doing it to be malicious, and if you ask them to stop more than likely they won’t even realize they’d been doing it. They will appreciate your honesty and you may be helping them avoid issues down the line.

For example – somebody is “always” 5 – 10 minutes late, it’s just “who they are”. The message they could be sending is “you’re not important to me”; not the brand professionals want to have. If you take this person to the side after the meeting and suggest a solution – set your watch ahead by 15 minutes, give yourself more time between appointments, etc… Always have solutions, it shows you have their best interest in mind.