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Five Steps for Identifying and Joining a Nonprofit Board

Finding a nonprofit board role at the center of your passion can be daunting. We've simplified the process.
byWhitley Richards, Erika Ana FloresonFebruary 27, 2023

Last year, we began a blog series on the topic of “Having a board that reflects the community your organization serves.” We dedicated three pieces to the nonprofit audience exploring that phrase and providing ideas for board development and diversification. This last piece in the series is dedicated to candidates in their journey to find a board.

“I’m really interested in getting on a board, but I just don’t know where to start.”

If that’s you, you’re not alone. And while many people struggle to launch their search for a board role, we recognize the added layer of difficulty this task presents for people of color. We started this series discussing challenges like tokenism that people of color face in the boardroom. The following tips help demystify the process of joining a board and set you up to bring your full self to the process.

Step 1: Identify your passion

The single most important aspect of nonprofit board service is passion for the mission. Whether you’ve been approached by an organization to consider serving on the board or you’re performing your own search, it’s important to do the work to find your passion. For helpful tips on identifying your cause, check out this piece by our very own Ashley Bratrud.

Step 2: Assess whether you’re prepared to make the commitment

Board service is a commitment of your time, talent, and treasure. The time commitment ranges from board to board, but typically, board members engage in committee work, answer calls from the Executive Director between meetings, conduct research or draft new policies, attend events, and much more. Be prepared to be an active board member willing and able to give 6- 8 hours per month in service on average.

Your talents are an asset too; you’re bringing a valuable skill set to the board and will be expected to draw on that as you contribute. Are you prepared to share your expertise with your board and organization?

Ultimately, giving and fundraising are important aspects of board service and differ from board to board. Before joining a board, think about how much you would be comfortable contributing on an annual basis. Not sure where to start thinking about this? Here are three tips for narrowing in on your Give/Get comfort:

  1. Consider making your gift to your nonprofit organization among your top three charitable contributions for the year.

  2. Evaluate your fundraising experience and your network. Who might be passionate about the things you’re passionate about and willing to contribute?

  3. Stretch yourself! Nonprofit organizations are designed to fundraise. You’ll receive support in reaching your goals.

Step 3: Research organizations doing work in your cause areas

After exploring what you are passionate about, take some time to discover organizations that are addressing your cause.

Passionate about immigrant rights and youth? Perhaps you will be drawn to an organization working to support immigrant youth as they navigate higher education resources. A quick Google search of “nonprofit organizations in my area supporting immigrant youth in higher education” will yield a list of groups addressing this need. You might even get a sense of who the larger national organizations are, as well as those in your specific location. You’ll want to spend some time on the website of each organization you find - pay close attention to the impact they’ve made, who currently serves on the board, and how they engage with the community.

Performing a search and doing a bit of research will help you gain a fuller picture of the community of organizations addressing your cause and help you identify some future board role opportunities. As you zero in on a nonprofit, having this information will allow you to make an informed decision as you assess your own fit and reach out to the organization.

Step 4: Look for a way to get involved

Research will help you get a feel for an organization, but getting involved in the organization’s work will give you first hand experience of their impact. In fact, it is common practice for a nonprofit to source potential board members from those already involved with the organization, either as a patron of events, a volunteer, or a member. Nonprofits prioritize passion for the mission, and being involved in a number of these activities can demonstrate your dedication to the work.

Another way to get involved is by making donations to the organization. While name recognition will be helpful, many nonprofits also look to explicitly engage their donors through volunteer opportunities and recognition events. When assessing passion for the mission, extending your pockets and time are great ways to show your interest and commitment.

Step 5: Introduce yourself to the board

Once you’ve made a connection to the organization, it’s important to speak with the right individuals regarding your candidacy as a board member. Oftentimes, this is the Executive Director, the Chair of the Nominating Committee, or a Development Director. In your conversations, be clear about your passion for the organization, as well as what you’re able to commit from a time and giving perspective.

Exploring your candidacy with a board, or what we sometimes call “vetting,” can take many forms. Often this means meeting with several board members, going on a site visit to the organization and speaking with staff, or attending organization events. Throughout this process, it’s important to ask questions you have about the organization’s work and how the board plays a role in advancing the mission. If successful, you’ll be nominated to the board and formally elected at or before an upcoming meeting. Congrats!

Our Upcoming Fellowship Opportunity for Professionals of Color

Serving as a nonprofit board member asks us to extend our time, talent and treasure to causes greater than ourselves. It is one of the most meaningful ways to give back to your community and the cause areas you are passionate about. But identifying board service opportunities can be daunting when left to our own devices, and we know this to be an even more difficult task for people of color.

Here at Cause Strategy Partners we’re committed to closing the opportunity gap that exists for professionals of color interested in board service. Keep an eye out for an upcoming opportunity to join a special BoardLead cohort designed to support individuals of color looking to grow through nonprofit board service- an incredible leadership development opportunity!

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