Women on Boards

How Joining a Nonprofit Board Helps Your Career and Your Community

Joining a nonprofit board can boost your career and develop your leadership skills. You can make a real impact in your community, too. Win-win-win. Here are a few questions and answers to help you decide if you’re ready to join a board of directors.

What is a board of directors?

Public companies and nonprofit organizations are required to have a board of directors. In the for-profit world, these advisors represent shareholders and their interests. For nonprofits, directors serve the community’s interests.

What types of duties does a board member have?

The board of directors protect and promote a nonprofit’s mission, monitor the organization’s financial and legal responsibilities, and often fundraise. Some nonprofits expect the board to donate personally; in other cases, the board is responsible for securing donations from others. Nonprofit Quarterly has a more comprehensive list of typical board responsibilities.

Why would you want to join a nonprofit board?

Joining a board can benefit your career – you’ll meet leaders in your area and develop your leadership skills. Serving also allows you to give back to your community and make an impact for a cause you believe in.

Why should women (and in particular, women of color) consider joining a board?

Many boards lack diversity. In fact, “more than 80 percent of nonprofit board members are white, a number that looks remarkably similar to the group’s findings from a 1994 index survey.” And corporate boards have a similar lack of gender representation – only  “20 percent of board seats in the S&P 500 are held by women.” The national campaign 20% by 2020 has the goal of increasing representation of women on corporate boards.

How do you join a board?

In many cases, you apply with a letter of interest and résumé, similar to a job. Some organizations may have a specific application process. Before you apply, it’s a good idea to ask a few questions:

  • Do you feel aligned with the mission?
  • How is the health (financial and legal) of the organization?
  • Could your expertise make an impact for the nonprofit and its mission?
  • Can you fulfill the board’s obligations – both time and fundraising commitments?

When you can answer these questions to your satisfaction, it’s time to start looking!  Idealist, Bridgespan, Boardnet, VolunteerMatch, BoardSource, and job sites like Indeed and LinkedIn are potential sources. You can also ask organizations you’re already involved with about opportunities.

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