How Can I Become a Member of a Non-Profit’s Board of Directors?

boardOne of the most rewarding opportunities that anyone can achieve within their professional careers is being asked to serve on the board of directors for a prestigious non-profit organization.

Every year, tens of thousands of non-profit organizations across the globe go through a complex vetting and recruitment process to find the most knowledgeable and experienced talent to help them grow their organizations and reach new heights.

If you have ever considered what it takes to serve on a board of directors of a non-profit organization, here is a comprehensive overview of what it takes to land this type of opportunity. Whether you strive to serve on the board of a local, small faith-based charity or would like to sit on the board of a large hospital system, all organizations look for the right candidates to help implement their strategic vision and plan.

Become Familiar With the Nonprofit Sector

Probably the first thing you should do before you even consider serving on the board of a nonprofit organization is to become very familiar with the nonprofit industry. You should learn the ins and outs of nonprofit management and the type of services that nonprofit organizations typically offer. Nonprofit organizations come in different sizes and work across different sectors and industries. Public schools, universities, hospitals, charities, local government agencies and research institutes are common forms of non-profit organizations. With the rise of social entrepreneurship, it is starting to become very common for traditional businesses to seek nonprofit designation and 501(c)3 tax exemption. Many entrepreneurs see the value in employing traditional business models to help solve some of society’s most pressing social, economic and educational issues. Restaurants that provide career and training services to ex-felons, urban farms that employ inner-city youth and banks that provide micro-loans to farmers in rural villages in different developing nations are all great examples of the rise of social entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sphere. If you aspire to one day serve on the board of a non-profit organization, it is important to understand these emerging trends. Boards want to recruit individuals who are going to stay on top of these industry changes.

Education Background

While it is not required that individuals who aspire to become a member of a board of directors for nonprofit organization graduate college, it will definitely help if you have some sort of degree. Prospective board members should not only attend a major college or university, but strive to have great academics while enrolled in school. Use your time in college to take a variety of courses to become skilled and knowledgeable in a wide variety of fields.

Those who are prime candidates to serve on a board of directors for a nonprofit organizations take classes such as business finance, marketing, management, accounting, fundraising, and information technology. Courses that candidates should also take would be those in social sciences such as public policy, government, advocacy, psychology, history and sociology. Because we live in an increasingly inter-connected, diverse society, it is recommended that prospective candidates also study world languages. Some great languages include Spanish, Arabic, Hindii, Farsi, Chinese, Portuguese and Swahili. Typical college majors that many prospective board of directors members study include: sociology, political science, business, mass communications and ethnic studies. After graduating from college, many prospective board of directors members go off to law school or attend graduate programs in social sciences, medicine and business.

If you do not have a college degree but still desire to serve on a board of a nonprofit organization, don’t fret. The best boards know that diversity is a huge factor in a well-operating board of directors. Many communities organize leadership classes for individuals interested in serving on boards, but have little experience, and large non-profits in those cities will have knowledge of these programs and can point you in the right direction. If you have other unique attributes besides education that you can bring to the table, don’t hesitate to pursue your desire to serve your community.

Volunteer Work

Those who are recruited to serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization usually have extensive experience volunteering with a wide range of non-profit organizations. You should start early on to get involved in a wide variety of charities, non-profit foundations and other groups that do work that you find very interesting. If your passion is youth and education, volunteer your time with an after-school program. If you are passionate about healthcare, volunteer with a hospital or a public healthcare agency that provides health promotion services to local communities.

Use your time while volunteering to meet as many people possible working for the organization. Many nonprofits constantly host events and other activities in order to raise funds. Often these events are awesome networking opportunities and will give you the ability to meet leaders, CEOs, politicians, local prominent business leaders and other individuals who most likely serve on the board of directors for other organizations. Networking is perhaps the single most important tool you should employ in your quest to join a board of directors.

Work Experience

Prospective members of board of directors for non-profit organizations have diverse work experience working in a variety of industries. Non-profit organizations want to be able to recruit talented individuals who will bring and leverage their experience to help an organization meet large fundraising goals or land a huge contract with a government agency. It is very common for members of boards of directors to have at least five to ten years or consistent, professional experience working for a reputable company, organization or another nonprofit organization. Try your best to develop a comprehensive portfolio, showcasing your work experience, results and other highlights of your career.

Vetting and Recruitment Process

After you have volunteered your time to work with an organization that you are passionate about, you will need to see if they currently have an opening on their board of directors. If so, the first thing you should do is approach either the CEO, Executive Director or Chairman of the Board of Directors with your interest.

For you to be taken seriously, make sure that you are recognized by the community at-large as an experienced and knowledgeable individual who can greatly contribute to an organization. Seek the endorsement of a local clergyman, politician or another civic leader who is familiar with your work.

Every organization has their own unique vetting and recruitment process. Become familiar with the process and work within the respective channels to put your name in the pool of prospective candidates. Usually, most organizations will conduct a series of interviews and will go over your academic background, work experience, volunteer experience and your vision for the organization. If they find that you are a great match for the organization, most boards will have an internal evaluation process where they will eventually decide the best candidates for the position. Hopefully, you will emerge as the top candidate and be invited to serve on their board. However, it is important to keep in mind that board of director positions are non-paid and in no way, shape, form or fashion should you pay or lobby for a position on a board. This is considered unethical and could possibly put the organization at risk for losing its tax exemption. Board members are usually also asked to commit to supporting the organization financially, so be sure to honor this commitment if you are chosen to serve.

Serving on a non-profit’s board of directors is a win-win for both the organization and the board member. Even if you do not necessarily land a position on the board of your desire, do not give up on volunteering and sharing your work experiences with your community.