I remember the first time I was asked to join a board for a non-profit in Washington DC. I felt flattered to be asked, I was honored to be with the other Board members and I also wonder what I had just said “yes” to doing with my extra time.
My first BOD was for a homeless shelter for women in downtown DC. It was what I call a “feet on the ground” board. We hosted parties for the women, we made sure birthdays for the staff were recognized, we answered calls when someone was out sick and we made sure that whatever was needed at the shelter was taken care of right down to bathroom and cleaning supplies. It was the perfect fit for me in my 20’s and I recognized my desire to continue serving in some way when I moved to Kansas City.
The next round of boards I served on become a cross between “feet on the ground” and an advisory role. When there was a need, those boards would jump into action and tackle whatever needed to be done. Often times this was due to a small staff and a small budget. Typically, these may also smaller boards made up of people who have a personal passion for the cause.
There are also boards that are very large and are truly advisory only roles. Larger may mean a board of 30+ people who meet once a month and hear reports from senior staff members at the non-profit. These boards are often times made up of senior leaders from high-profile companies in the city.
What is required when you become a member of a board? This will depend on the board you become involved with. Some will ask for a yearly “donation”, some will ask that you buy a table or participate in another way at an annual fundraising event and each will require that you attend monthly board meetings. At some point, you may also be asked to serve in a leadership role on the board working directly with the Executive Director and senior staff. When you are asked to join a board, you will go through training and there is typically on boarding for new members. A term can be from 1-3 years and in some cases there may be no term limit.
How do you know what is right for you? I personally choose boards that have missions that I believe in and a cause that I have a heart for serving. When I am asked to serve on a new board, I take the time to ask questions, to visit the location where they work with their clients and I make sure I understand what is asked of their board members. I prefer boards that are a mix between “feet on the ground” and advisory. If my heart is connected to the mission, I want to spend time working on the cause beyond attending monthly meetings.
How do you find boards to get involved in? Look at those charities in the area that you either volunteer with now or want to get involved with in the future. Once you get involved, ask the Executive Director about becoming a board member. If you are with a large company and want to serve, let your HR representative know who may be able to connect you with a charity in need.
It is an honor to serve on a board of any non-profit. One side benefit is meeting other wonderful people with big hearts in the community along the way.