Steps towards board leadership

I recall as a young professional being completely mystified as to how people became a board member for a nonprofit organization.  I never saw a nonprofit with a check box on a volunteer form that said “Check this box and you will be on our board”… nor was I flooded with nonprofits calling me and begging me to be on their board. So, how was it that people had the opportunity to take on this important role in serving an organization?

First of all, it is important to understand the organizational structure of a typical nonprofit organization.  For nonprofits, the board of directors has the ultimate responsibility to lead the organization to fulfill its missions.  There are typically committees of the board that address various operational aspects of the organization. These committees examine issues important to the organization and  present recommendations to the board of directors for approval.

One of the board committees is usually a nominating committee.  The nominating committee is charged with the responsibility to develop a slate of potential board members for the board.  The slate is a list of individuals nominated to join the board of directors.  The nominating committee will typically approach the individuals on the proposed slate to gauge their interest in serving on the board of directors.

Then, depending on the organization, the slate of nominated board members is presented to the either the board of directors or the organization’s membership for a vote.  After a favorable vote, the slate of nominated board members are voted in as new board members for the organization and then serve their term on the board.  (Please be aware that all organizations are a bit different… some go through this process rather informally, while others have a very regimented approach to the nomination process.)

Curious how you can take it to the next level and be nominated for a board member position?  Here are some ways to work your way up to serving on an organization’s board of directors:

  • Volunteer:  Nonprofit organizations often look to their current volunteers engaged in program delivery, committees and special events as potential candidates for the board of directors.  By showing leadership and a commitment to the organization’s mission through volunteering, you are demonstrating your desire to serve the organization and showcasing your leadership skills.  Plus, volunteering for the organization will help familiarize you with the agency’s operations.
  • Donate:  This isn’t meant to imply that you can “buy your way onto the board,” but, it is good to show that you value the organization’s mission and see it worthy of your financial contribution.  One role for many nonprofit board members is to secure financial resources for the organization, and before you ask others to give, you too must be financially supporting the organization.  Why wait till you are on the board? If you believe in the mission, put your money where your passion is, and start donating now.
  • Network:    Get to know current board members and staff leadership, and tell them of your interest to serve on the board.  By sharing your interest to serve with those currently in leadership, you are throwing your name in the hat for discussion.  No, this doesn’t mean you have to know someone on the board to get on the board, but it does help to share you intentions with either the nonprofit’s staff and/or board members. Don’t expect them to be mind readers in knowing your interest to serve!

Most importantly, when you are nominated to serve on a board, fulfill your role to the best of your ability. Serving on a board of directors is an important role, which is why it is not an open invitation to anyone and everyone.  But, if you are ready to take the steps to join a board, start by volunteering, donating and networking.

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About Dr. Sarah Wolin Mackey

Putting theory into practice at nonprofit organizations.
This entry was posted in Board of Directors, Volunteer, Young Professional and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Steps towards board leadership

  1. I’ve had fairly good luck asking someone in the organization if, they are looking for board members, and if so, who I should talk to. The challenge in my experience is making the case that I will be a valuable member of the board even though I’m young. This is a post I wrote attempting to make that case.

    • Thanks for the comment, and the link to your blog post! I agree with you that the young professionals can be a great asset to nonprofit boards. But as you reference, they have to be committed and willing to tap their networks to support the organization. Great post!

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