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Board service

Pop quiz:

  • What volunteer position offers an opportunity to play a direct role in determining an organization's overall direction and impact?
  • Which volunteer role lends itself to meeting nonprofit leaders in the community and expanding one's personal and professional networks—all while getting a better sense of the local nonprofit landscape?
  • What type of volunteer position is offered by every nonprofit organization in the United States?

If you answered board service to all of the above, you're exactly right.

How board service is distinct from other volunteer roles

While we may not always think of nonprofit board service when we consider volunteerism, it is in fact a voluntary role. Some of the differences between board service and other volunteer positions?

You'll be a member of the highest-level decision-making team for an organization and so your level of responsibility will likely be more substantial than many (although by no means all) volunteer roles.

Time commitment

Because of this, chances are you'll be asked to make a commitment to your role as a board member for at least a year, possibly two or three.

However, the amount of time you actually contribute can vary from just a few hours per month participating in board meetings to several hours a week where the board is more actively involved in hands-on work (for example, a board of directors for a nonprofit organization with no paid staff).

Financial commitment

While organizations often reach out to volunteers for financial support, board members are often expected to make a minimum financial commitment to the organization. If you're considering board service it's a good idea to ask about the financial expectation up front.

Legal expectations and accountability

Board members play a legal role regarding organizational governance. Read more about the accountability of board members in the Resources for Nonprofit Organizations section of Idealist.

Read more about the key duties of board members.

Why serve on a board?

So why might you want to consider serving on a nonprofit board? First and foremost, board service is an excellent way to have a substantial, and ongoing, impact in your community. As a member of a dedicated team of concerned and engaged citizens, you can identify long-term goals, seek out diverse opportunities for collaboration, and brainstorm—as well as potentially implement—innovative strategies for lasting change.

At the same time, serving on a board can be an invaluable way to meet others in the local nonprofit sector. Not only can these connections help you build new social ties but those you serve with will almost certainly share your passion for the organization's particular cause and mission; if you're seeking paid employment or exploring the idea of a new career, these contacts can be great sources for everything from alerts to who is hiring, letters of recommendation, personal introductions, or even just informally putting in a good word for you.

Other great reasons to join a nonprofit board of directors? Here are just a few:

  • Learning more about the nuts and bolts of nonprofit governance as well as getting hands-on experience with such tasks as strategic planning, financial management, and grantwriting
  • Honing and actively demonstrating your leadership skills (board service looks great on a resume or CV!)
  • Getting a behind-the-scenes look at internal organizational systems such as nonprofit management, human resources, fundraising and resource development, and volunteer resource management

Learn more

So now that we have hopefully piqued your interest in board service, where can you go to learn more?

Your next stop should be BoardSource, one of the most comprehensive global sources for tools and information on nonprofit board service. They offer an informative website that covers such topics as basic board member responsibilities as well as a blog, Board Life Matters, that hosts personal stories and perspectives on board service.

Some BoardSource links: