Strategic Volunteerism – Will Non-Profit Board Service Expand Your Skills and Network?

One who runs a business, manages a staff, or perhaps raises a family, might question the value or reality of adding volunteer activities. Many cite non-profit board experience as an entrée to new job opportunities, the ability to leverage their networks, and an expansion of their skills.

Here are some questions to ask and areas to assess when you are deciding whether to commit to Non-Profit Board Service.

1. How Long Is the Commitment?

This will vary from organization to organization. Some only require a one year commitment, while others require a multi-year term. Additionally, some boards only meet quarterly, while others meet every month. You have to honestly question whether you can make the time commitment.

Another option: Most organizations have an annual fundraiser or some other type of fundraising mechanism. If you are unsure as to whether you can commit to serving on a particular board, offer to serve on the Fundraising Committee, which usually has a finite beginning and end.

I served a three-year term as a Trustee at my college, with an option of serving another three years. With two small children under the age of five, and the requirement of overnight travel for the Board, I felt a three-year term was enough. I also realized and appreciated, however, that I had an option to serve again when I was able to resume my commitment to my college.

2. How Much Are Board Members Expected to Financially Contribute?

Most non-profit organizations expect their Board Members to financially contribute every year. It is an important question to ask early in the discussion. Consider whether you can honor that commitment. Many organizations also have a “Give or Get” policy: either give the expected contribution every year or get the money, in other words raising the money from various friends or donors.

3. Can You Expand Your Skills?

Boards will often recruit potential members based on certain specialties, for example, lawyers, accountants, or management consultants. Are you being recruited for a specific skill, or are you willing to expand your skills? If you are an accountant, consider whether you are willing to Chair the Fundraising Gala, where you might recruit corporate and individual donors, in-kind contributions, and other solicitations.

No doubt this would be a challenging and time-consuming effort, but certainly an opportunity to broaden your contacts, skills, and knowledge. And one could argue that the ability to raise money and ask others for money is always a useful skill.

4. What Are You Prepared To Do?

Set realistic expectations for yourself and the organization. Whenever I am considering joining a board, I always think about what I bring to the organization in terms of contacts and whether I am willing to use my contacts to help this particular organization.

The Board will expect everyone to contribute time, money, and a variety of other skills. I always find it best to lay out what I am willing to do and what I do not want to do. Potential conflicts of interest may arise with your own business, or any number of other conflicts. Full disclosure is always the best policy.

Non profit board service can be a rewarding way to broaden your skills and provide opportunities to expand your business. However, it is important to do your due diligence to ensure that all parties will benefit and to set realistic expectations for the organization and for yourself.