Follow your passion when joining a board

October 21, 2013

Follow your passion when joining a board
 
 


 Lewis Lavine
President, Center for Nonprofit Management
 
It has been a reaffirming week: You have been asked to serve on two nonprofit boards.
 
Your friend Sally asked you to be a founding board member of a local nonprofit to attack the disease that has ravaged her mother. She will be the board chairwoman and CEO of the agency – a new organization that doesn’t have a strategic plan or any revenue. Sally says that you won’t need to make financial contributions, but simply enable her to run the charity by signing onto the board.
 
The next day, your friend Beth informed you that the largest performing arts organization in town will ask you to join its board. Serving on this board will help your business and improve your social status. You will be expected to make a substantial financial contribution, but it will pay dividends through the contacts you will make.
 
As you think about it, though, you realize that you have no passion for curing that particular disease or for the product of the arts agency. Should you join either or both boards? Probably neither. After the initial ego boost, you would soon realize that each is a burden for you, not a service to the community, and you would not have a worthwhile experience.
The real reason to serve on a nonprofit board is to use your passion, experience and expertise to help it accomplish its mission. Board service is the highest form of volunteerism; when you join a board, you should be highly energized to participate in its activities, ready to commit your personal energy and some of your financial resources to a cause that you care about.
 
Many of us join a board without knowing enough about the agency. So, how can we do better? How do we learn about a nonprofit so that we can make an intelligent decision about board service?
Begin with research. Nashville is blessed with an array of organizations that help the nonprofit sector and enable citizens to learn about nonprofits.
 
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee maintains a database (www.givingmatters.com) which gives extensive profiles of 1,300 nonprofits. It is an excellent way to identify and learn about a specific agency.
 
Hands On Nashville, which provided more than 100,000 connections last year for volunteers to assist nonprofits, also helps individuals find boards in their areas of interest.
 
• If you are early in your professional career, the Young Leaders Council can select you to be part of a cohort to learn all about board service and become a board intern for a year.
 
• The Tennessee Attorney General has an online guidebook for board members, accessible here.
 
• Agencies themselves welcome volunteers. Many hold fundraising events that require volunteers, while others need help with the direct delivery of their services. Both allow you to learn about the workings of that agency.
Other than being a volunteer, how can you be certain that your passion will mix with a competent agency? A successful nonprofit will have the following:
 
• A partnership between strong capable management and an involved and energized board.
 
• Financial statements which are readily available to board members and easy to understand.
 
• A fiscally sound business history, which points toward the long-term sustainability of the agency.
 
• Directors and officers liability insurance, which includes potential personnel actions.
 
• A successful service program that carries out a defined mission.
 
• An interest among its leadership in collaborating with other agencies in its field to best serve the community.
 
If you have done your homework and follow your passion, you will have an inspiring board service and improve our community at the same time.

 

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