Join a Board: Why?
The first board I joined in my early twenties was our neighborhood association. I lived in the poor section of North Springfield and there was no community pool, so we organized neighborhood cleanups and things of that sort. As a young person, this was wonderful, it gave me real world leadership experience. By accident, it helped give me the confidence to join other boards, even at an early age. I've been involved in leadership opportunities since student government in high school and college.
Our neighborhood’s level of involvement in the association was pretty low, so the active members were really thrilled when a young couple moved to the neighborhood who they could rope into being on this board. It was easy for me and I didn't even have to think about it. With that experience under my belt, it became really easy for me to join other boards. If you have you are looking, you'll soon find that there are tons of charity boards that need active, engaged members. At one point I was on half a dozen boards at the same time and every one of them struggled to get people who would be active, engaged, and just attend the meetings regularly.
The good news for those of us who might be interested in joining a board is that there are a lot that are easy to join. Now, there are some bigger institutions that are more prestigious and are invitation only. They are hard to get on the board of, but let that be a reach goal for you. If you're interested in joining those boards, start by cutting your teeth on some smaller organization boards. There are a lot of good reasons to serve on a board of directors. It's a great way of developing your leadership skills, giving back to the community, helping a nonprofit that you care a lot about, meeting new people, and networking with people who share in your passion. Let's dive into these.
You should not join a board if you don't actually care about the organization. It's a responsibility and that seat could be filled by someone who truly cares. I was once given some good advice that I'll pass on. If you're not willing to give financially to an organization, then you should not be on their board of directors. That seems like a pretty good rule of thumb. There are plenty of graceful ways to decline an invitation to join a board, trust me, boards get declined all the time. Don't say yes because you feel pressured, only join a board if you are really willing to be engaged. It's normal to ask when and how often a board meets, because you want to make sure you don't already have something scheduled that would make it impossible for you to attend very often.
Some of the main responsibilities of being on a board are: regular attendance, financial support, volunteer at fundraisers and other activities, and being an enthusiastic supporter in your community. If you aren't committed to supporting a nonprofit in this way, then you shouldn't join their board. If you love a nonprofit, you're probably doing all of this anyway, except for maybe attending the board meetings, and it's a great fit to join a board that you already love.
When you serve on a board, something you quickly realize is that not a lot of people are willing to be an officer. So, after you've been on it a little while, there's a good chance they'll ask you to be a secretary or treasurer, if you’re a CPA like me. You don't have to say yes to this, but it can be a great way to further your leadership development. It's a responsibility that you're taking on, which usually involves a little bit of speaking in front of the group and making presentations, which can boost your confidence if you're nervous about public speaking.
Boards are also great for personal growth. The people who are on boards are often the kind of high-caliber people who are already strong leaders and surrounding yourself with good leaders tends to rub off. Networking is another great benefit. You get to meet people and work side by side with them on a mutual passion and that's a great way to build a relationship. I don't think anyone should join a board because they're primarily trying to network, but being on a board is a great for getting plugged into your community to meet more people. Indirectly, there's a good chance you will do business with people you meet as part of your extended network through joining a board.
Another reason to join a board is to be an engaged member. If you're interested in a nonprofit and willing to meet the level of engagement and requirements I talked about earlier, then know that there are a lot of nonprofits out there that don't have full boards because they struggle to find good, passionate people to join them.
Hopefully, I've convinced you that joining a board is fun and can benefit you and the nonprofit you care about. Now, how do you go about actually joining a board? Younger people don’t even have this on their radar as an option. It might be decades before anyone asks you to join a board. It just so happened that I was offered a position on a board because of where I lived and that is not always the case. That doesn't mean they don't want you on their board, it just means you might not be connected with people on that board who think to ask you. So, go out there and find a board you are passionate about joining.