Applications will soon be opening for spots on YNPN-TC’s Board of Directors. This is your opportunity to take a leadership role and shape the future of the organization. To help you start thinking about if a Board position is right for you, Brandon Boat put together some advice from himself and others about what it takes to join a nonprofit board.
Board service is a great opportunity to advance your career to the next level. Whether you’re trying to network, gain more experience, or an alien trying to learn “human feelings,” joining a board of directors will provide you with new connections, a sense of fulfillment, and ownership over a mission in a way that’s very different from being an employee or volunteer.
So how can you get a spot on a board?
There are several different types of boards, and all of this advice may not be applicable in each situation. For instance, some boards are chosen by a committee and the process may be similar to a job interview. Other boards may propose candidates and have their membership vote on them. Other boards are chosen because your sister went to a better school than you and dad thinks that she deserves...ahem, excuse me. Nepotism is a different beast altogether, so we’ll leave that for a different blog post.
For starters, you should try to get on a board that you have a preexisting relationship with. My own relationship with YNPN-TC began several years ago when I first went to one of their events. It was a great chance to meet other people in the organization and to find out more about their programming and mission. You should only join the board of an organization that you love. If you hate an organization, the other board members will resent you for trying to bring it down from the inside.
It’s also helpful to volunteer with an organization. You’ll get a chance to work with staff, and it will help inform you about how the organization operates. In my own case, my company, The Theater of Public Policy, partnered with YNPN-TC on several events over the past several years. This allowed me to learn more about their structure and operations from a hands-on perspective.
Once you’ve landed an interview, you need to do your research. Scour websites, attend events, and conduct interviews with past board members. In my case, I happened to share the same hometown with a past YNPN-TC board president. I called him up, and we chatted about the future of the organization and what they were looking for in new board members. While you may not have that existing relationship, it’s to your benefit to meet for coffee or chat with a board member at an event. They can give you great advice and also let you know more about what the board service is like.
Because this is the first board I’ve had the pleasure of serving on, I don’t have all the answers. So to write this blog, I asked several others to give their advice and put together a list that you can find below. Some of the information is similar to my own advice (HINT: That means it’s important) and I think the rest is valuable too. After all, it would be weird to offer terrible advice in an article like this. One last thing, always dress as a circus clown at your interviews.
Carl Swanson, Board Member, YNPN-TC
Get to know who is on the board already. You are about to enter into a working relationship that oversees the success of an organization, so knowing who is there now goes a long way to having a solid working relationship going forward. It's also a good thing—especially if you are joining a board like YNPN-TC's—to ask the double-sided question of 'What am I good at?' and 'What do I want to work on?' Answering the first tells you what you bring to the table, answering the second gives you the ability to seek it out in fellow board members.
Jaimie Millard, Board Chair, YNPN-TC
The most common advice is to pick an organization with a cause/mission you are passionate about. If you struggle with picking a cause/mission, find a board or organization with the TYPE of people you'd like to know better and build relationships with. Boards are made of people, so finding a board with people you'd want to get to know better is perfectly natural!
Getting to know my fellow YNPN-TC boardies has been one of my favorite parts of this experience. They are all like-minded, but from diverse backgrounds and subsectors—I've learned so much from the other board people, honestly more so than the mission.
Cary Walski, Board Member, YNPN-TC
Not sure where to start? MAP for Nonprofits has a "matchmaking" program that's free for individuals who'd like to connect with nonprofits looking for board members. Sign up, and you'll be interviewed about your skills and interests, and MAP will your info on if a nonprofit is looking for a board member like you. You'll also be subscribed to receive monthly updates about board openings that might interest you at Twin Cities nonprofits.
Kenza Hadj-Moussa, Board Member, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Our Saviour’s Community Services
Joining a board is a big commitment. Start aligning yourself with an issue or organization you care about. You can learn about the process of joining a board by contacting a board member or the executive director. Also, let your network know you're interested in joining a board to connect you to opportunities. There are also board listings on the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits job board.
Rinal Ray, Board Member, College Possible Twin Cities and Avalon School
Show up. Go to the organization's events, fundraisers, and volunteer opportunities. Raise your hand to do work that maybe others don't want to do, maybe via a board committee. If you want to be on the boardm say it out loud, preferably to someone who might help make it happen (current board members and EDs in particular). Actually apply for the board and make sure your application is thoughtful. I'd also advise making sure you know what you're getting into—the commitment, expectations (work, time, money) and make sure it's a fit for how you want to grow and contribute.
Diane Tran, Board Chair, Citizens League Board of Directors
Volunteering or serving on a committee is one important way to get a better sense for the work of the organization and gauge whether you'd be interested in deepening your level of commitment to advancing their mission. At the Citizens League, engaged volunteers who have cultivated their membership and involvement over time are one of the primary pools we draw from when seeking potential board members.