Serving on a Not-for-Profit Board

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About four years ago, I was approached by my college alma mater for a potential role on the Board of Trustees. After a vigorous interview process, my nomination was approved. I was thrilled for the opportunity to give back to a place that I have a lot of passion for – not just financially but also through my expertise.

I am continuously learning about the business of running a University and the experiences that I have had while on the Board easily reflect and parallel that of a corporate Board. We deal with similar aspects of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) oversight. We also deal with related challenges that many organizations face – helping the school navigate through a global health pandemic and responding to the various Social issues that were well documented over the past year. Overall, it has been a challenging but very rewarding experience.

Serving on a Not-for-Profit (NFP) Board is an opportunity to serve and give back to your community, build strong relationships, and sharpen professional skills. For many, sitting on a NFP Board is their first exposure to a Board role. Like any service opportunity, you should first ask yourself, “Why would I want to serve on this Board?”

Not sure how to approach your role? Here are a few of my lessons learned from serving on several NFP and Advisory Boards over the course of my 30-year career:

Make sure you align with your passion or interests.

Find an organization that has a mission or purpose that you have passion for – whether that is an organization serving at-risk youth, a cultural institution, or a community-based organization.

Be sure to do some fact finding before you commit.

Make sure you understand the financial commitment that will be required of you as a Board member. Most NFP Boards require you to invest not just your time but also your treasure.

Understand the experiences you’ll gain.

Be sure to develop great Board habits from the beginning, as the habits you develop overtime will undoubtedly be carrier forward to other Boards or committees that you may service on. In your role, you’ll have the opportunity to build relationships with fellow members and with the organization’s staff, as well as learn about the industry or area of focus of that NFP organization.

Work to get the most out of your relationships

In my time serving on numerous Boards, the relationships I have developed with incredibly influential (and smart!) people has been unmatched — from industry leaders to CEOs of major companies.  We meet in a place where we have common interests — to serve an organization that each of us have passion for — and we get the opportunity to spend time with a diverse group of folks.

Serving on a NFP board can help prepare you for a For-Profit Board position

When you serve on a NFP board, you can learn important lessons and skills. For example, you may have an opportunity to serve on one of the various Board committees—the audit committee, nomination and governance committee or perhaps serving as Board Chair – which provides rich learning experiences like teamwork, negotiation, financial acumen, and networking. Gaining skills in these and other areas will be useful if you’re given an opportunity to serve on a For-Profit Board in the future.

Finally, sitting on a (NFP) Board is a fulfilling way that to give back to your community to help build a better working world. But the reality is that you’ll probably take away a lot more than you might contribute. Going in with the right mindset can help a lot.

So – are you in?

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

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