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What to Expect When You Join a Nonprofit Board

Board members are critical figures in a nonprofit, selected for their passion, knowledge, and network. However, if you are considering your first board membership, you may not know what to it entails. Here are some general things you can expect when joining a nonprofit board.

what to expect when you join a nonprofit board

A Time Commitment

If a nonprofit is led by an executive director, the board members are the ones who hire and set the pay level for the charity’s leader. The structure of a charity is formed, guided, and sustained by its board. This happens through the board members’ collaborative work. At least one annual, general meeting takes place with the full board in attendance. Additionally, the board meets at regular intervals and on special occasions to address, and vote on, matters facing the charity. You may belong to committees that meet independently of the board, as well. This considerable time commitment is critical to consider before joining a nonprofit board.

The Chain of Command

Certain board members are elected by their colleagues for officer positions. Posts may include the president, a VP, a secretary, and a treasurer. As a general rule, one board member can hold two officer positions at once, but the same person cannot serve as both the board’s president and its secretary. The officers’ roles and terms follow the definitions set forth in the nonprofit’s bylaws.

RELATED: Board Chair: The Compass of a Nonprofit Board

In most healthy organizations, board memberships are temporary. New blood regularly comes in to take the place of members who finish their two to five-year terms. Your bylaws will clearly state what the term expectations are.

Networking Champions

Board members should come prepared to tap their networks for corporate sponsorships and private donations. They should be ready to plan and oversee fundraising and public outreach initiatives when joining a nonprofit board.

Board members may make personal donations. Board members may involve their businesses in fundraising support, too. Yet while being a nonprofit board member does mean donating time and support, it does not require personal wealth. Nor does it require a position at a high-profile corporation. To foster donor confidence, a board should be cultivating some kind of investment in the entity’s charitable mission. Fortunately for board members, this can be proportional to their resources.

Board members must also have a knack for attracting others who share their interest in the cause, and who might be willing to take the baton when the present board members finish their terms. Thus, networking involves a presence at conferences and fairs. It means spending time in community outreach. It can involve mentoring volunteers, and passing knowledge along to incoming board members.

RELATED: Webinar: The New Language of Nonprofit Fundraising

Keeping Organized

Board members need to know, or learn, how to guide the nonprofit’s financial success. Being a nonprofit board member involves knowing, or taking time to learn, how to examine and assess financials. A great board member also keeps current with the news, the online world, technology, and predictions in relevant areas of the nonprofit world.

Nonprofits should create a role description for the member of the board of directors and make it available in their board portal, where all board documents can be stored in an organized fashion. Describing the role is a helpful way to explain the position to prospective board members, enabling them to decide whether the time commitment is plausible for them.

Joining a Nonprofit Board Is Just the Beginning

Store self-evaluation forms in your board portal. They should be learning tools, highlighting qualities that best suit a board member. A strong nonprofit board completes member self-evaluations and assesses the effectiveness of its interacting members.

Above all, a board member needs passion. Guided by a sensitive awareness of board duties, a wholehearted belief in the charitable mission is the best quality any board member can offer.

RELATED: Young Professionals Boards – Does Your Board Need One?


Interested in how to make your board of directors more productive through the effective use of technology? Boardable is a software platform that centralizes all communication between you and your board. Find the best meeting times, securely store all of your documents, archive discussion threads and more—all in one place. Click below to schedule a demo with a member of our Boardable team.

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