How to Get a Seat on a Nonprofit Board in Your Community
Whether or not you're mulling a full-time move to the philanthropic world, a volunteer seat on a nonprofit board can be a worthwhile endeavor. Such appointments are a de facto prerequisite for corporate board hopefuls and can create powerful networking opportunities along with the chance to do good works in your community. Here are a few tips for snagging a nonprofit board seat.
1. Start small. Don't set your initial sights on a board seat for a new billion-dollar hospital project or the city's largest performing-arts organization. Pick a group that's already close to your heart—say, the children's symphony orchestra where your daughter plays viola. It's essential that you care about the cause because you'll be expected to make a significant financial contribution and engage your friends and corporate colleagues in your fund-raising efforts.
2. Create a résumé that plays up your on- and off-the-job strengths. If you served as band Mom for your child's drum-and-bugle corps on its six-state tour, you've got something to offer the typical nonprofit board. Boards are looking for nuts-and-bolts folks to take on treasurer, membership-liaison, and database-management roles, and movers and shakers to rev up marketing, donor cultivation, and publicity efforts.
3. Post a profile at boardnetusa.org to let local boards know you're available. Tell co-workers and friends you're hunting for a nonprofit board seat, and one will find you sooner than you may expect.
Moving from a speedy, customer-focused for-profit enterprise to a philanthropic organization can be eye-opening. Expect to encounter these realities when you decamp for a not-for-profit:
— Culture shock. The pace of not-for-profit decision-making can drive a corporate refugee to distraction. You may think a grassroots community group is akin to a startup. But people aren't typically hired into nonprofits for their business savvy or ability to execute on a dime. Once the culture shock wears off, you may push for culture change. That process can be slow.
— Politics. Some say the politics in philanthropy are worse than in corporate life because resources are so constrained. Be ready to set a tone for up-front communication, to adjudicate a simmering feud or two, or even to make some personnel changes.
— A do-it-yourself mindset. If you have the top job, you may make the trade-off and do your own stapling or reserve your own hotel room rather than pay an additional staff salary. But don't say you weren't warned.