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By Erin Connell, Consultant at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC

Our BoardLeaders have proven their capabilities and drive in sheer numbers, with 56 BoardLeaders serving as high-impact nonprofit board members on 120 boards in New York and Chicago. As we prepare to launch our next round of BoardLead in both cities, our team wondered: what qualitative impact and growth have our BoardLeaders experienced through their nonprofit board service?

I was determined to find out. I spoke with 14 BoardLeaders from the NYC Spring 2015 cohort to learn more. My conclusion? Listen up, because these individuals have some serious knowledge to drop! The BoardLeaders I spoke with blew me away with their insights, their knowledge, and their confidence. Our BoardLeaders know nonprofit board service, and here’s what they had to say.

 

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1. Be passionate

To excel as a nonprofit board member, you must passionately and honestly support the mission. First, for the nonprofit’s sake and yours, make sure you believe in their work! Your time (and money) is important, so seek service opportunities that invigorate your interests and passions. Second, be honest when seeking board opportunities; be true to yourself and true to your passions when seeking out service. This should be a cause you can get behind for a while, not just for the purpose of padding your resume. If you do this and are pure in your passions, you will set yourself up for the ideal board position – one that doesn’t feel like a job!

 

2. Be clear about your motives

It is important to be clear and honest with yourself, and with the nonprofit, about what you look to get out of board service – and about what they hope to gain from board members. All board members should contribute with their time, treasure and talent, though the degree to which you add to each will depend largely on your motives. Looking to build your strategic management skills? Hoping to contribute to the financial success of an organization? Aiming to commit your free time to a good cause? Understand and express your motives; you and the nonprofit both want a board situation where all parties bring and receive what they can, are comfortable with, and have agreed to.

 

3. Be honest with and about yourself

Understand what skills you can feasibly add to the board, as well as what their needs are. In particular, do your research and honestly look at the commitment. Then be up-front about what time and monetary support you can contribute. 

 

 

4. Make a friend through thoughtful and engaged listening

Before you commit to board service, take time to meet with the board chair, the board members, and the chief executive. Listen to their experiences and stories to fully understand the culture, the needs, and the expectations of the board and the organization. Once you are serving on a board, take advantage of learning from others. Take your fellow board members out for coffee to learn from them what engaged board service looks like. Go to board meetings and events, schedule informational interviews, and foster relationships with your fellow board members – and with the organization’s staff.

 

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5. Be vocal

You have skills and a perspective that can add value – people will appreciate your participation and engagement!

 

Our BoardLeaders don’t just show their value in numbers: they prove to us everyday that strong nonprofit board service is possible through passionate, self-aware, and engaged commitment to service. At Cause Strategy Partners, we envision a world where we’re asked not where we work, but what causes we support. Engaging in high-impact, committed board service is a great way to put your passions to work. Our BoardLeaders have proven this potential; we hope their tips for how to approach and excel in board service will inspire others to do the same.

Erin Connell
Erin M. Connell, MPA is a Consultant and Project Manager at Cause Strategy Partners. She has over five years of professional experience working in both the public and private sectors, and is deeply passionate about public service. At Cause Strategy Partners, Erin collaborates on matters of non-profit management, corporate social responsibility, and board governance. Erin serves on the Alumni Board at City Year New York. She earned her M.P.A. from New York University (2017), and her B.A. from Columbia University (2013).