Since entering the professional world, it’s been an aim of mine to serve on the board of directors for a not-for-profit organization. I finally accomplished my goal in June 2019, but the process to achieving it was not always clear. If you are considering joining a not-for-profit board, I put together the following guide, based on my own experience, to help you get started!
Find Your Passion
When consulting with colleagues and friends who serve on different boards, the most common question they asked was, “What are you passionate about?”
Since serving on a not-for-profit board is a volunteer position, it is extremely important that you are passionate about the organization and its mission. For example, if you love cats and dogs, you could consider serving on the board of a local animal shelter. Start your search process by focusing on two or three topics that inspire passion and enthusiasm in you.
Search for Organizations
Once you have identified your passions, make a list of the not-for-profit organizations that serve these areas. Websites are a good starting point to learn more about the history and mission of organizations, their existing board members, and their financial health. You can also reach out via the contact information listed on their website, or connect with one of their board members directly on LinkedIn, to learn more about the organization and any potential board opportunities. Tapping into your existing professional network, friends, or family is also a possibility.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not see any board openings. Oftentimes, a board member holds a position for several years, so the opportunity may not be available until the term is over or when someone resigns. My own search took several months.
Apply, Interview, and Ask Questions
Once you have found a board opportunity with an organization that interests you, the next step is to apply for the position. This process is similar to applying for a job, typically there is an application to complete.
Once the application is submitted, the organization may set up a phone interview or conduct an in-person interview with you. Just as one would during a job interview, it is important to ask questions and discover whether the organization is an appropriate fit for you. Consider asking:
- Is it an operating or governance board?
- How often does the board meet and for how long? Are meetings done live or remotely?
- How many hours of commitment are expected from the board members each month?
- What kind of events does the organization hold?
- Are board members expected to attend all events the organization holds?
- Is there a required monetary contribution amount that board members are expected to give each year?
- How long is the term of the board position?
- Ask for a copy of the by-laws to familiarize yourself with the organization. Also, make sure the by-laws have an indemnification clause. This means the organization will pay to defend you if you are sued personally for issues related to board service.
- Does the organization have a director’s and officer’s (D&O) insurance policy? Though you have some protections under the Volunteer Protection Act, it is important for the organization to also have D&O insurance.
- Obtain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the position.
- Who are the other board members? It might be a good idea to ask them why they joined, what challenges they have faced as a leader, and their board experience with this organization.
Becoming a board member brings with it a great deal of responsibilities. According to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), a not-for-profit board’s responsibilities can be broken down into three general categories – strategic, legal, and fiduciary. These are all important things to consider before becoming a board member.
One of the most important responsibilities of a board member is to “set and oversee the implementation of strategic objectives for the organization to fulfill the mission.” Strategic objectives are SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Other important responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, hiring a new chief executive officer and determining the appropriate compensation for them.
Each board member has the duty of care, the duty of loyalty, and the duty of obedience. Circumstances that may jeopardize independence or create conflict of interest should be considered.
Each board member has an obligation to act in the best interest of the organization and to protect its financial assets.
Serving on a board is a truly unique and amazing experience, and it creates tremendous networking and leadership opportunities. To work with like-minded individuals who share the same passions is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. If you’ve ever considered serving as a board member, I encourage you to follow through! The steps listed above will help you reach your goal.
For any other questions on board governance or best practices, contact a Clark Nuber professional.
Grace Chu is a manager in Clark Nuber’s Accounting and Consulting Services team.
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