ADVANCING YOUR CAREER AND HUMANITY: 6 BENEFITS OF JOINING A NONPROFIT BOARD


By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterHaving written about major news items lately, I’ll devote this column to professional development. A few years ago, earning a certificate in nonprofit management, one of my best instructors told the class that if you really want to learn about how nonprofits operate, join a board of directors. Sound advice, both then and now. (I’ve served on the board of a small PR association and plan to eventually join a nonprofit board.)

Learning on the job and/or earning an advanced credential — M.S. in nonprofit management, MBA, nonprofit management certificate, etc. — is good, but can only take you so far. Case in point: Some years ago, working in PR for a large school system, one responsibility was covering board meetings. Here I learned about larger issues facing the district and how key decision-makers guided the school system  — something far beyond my regular job responsibilities.

6 BENEFITS OF JOINING A NONPROFIT BOARD

1) LEARN GOOD GOVERNANCE: The board’s job is to govern the organization by discussing and making decisions on big-picture issues — strategic plans, business/fund-raising strategies, staffing, agency planning, etc. It’s NOT about managing daily operations or specific projects; that’s for the executive director and staff. Not understanding this can create problems and hinder a board’s effectiveness.

2) APPLY SKILLS IN A MANAGEMENT CAPACITY: Within your areas of expertise, you’ll have opportunities to join committees and take on projects applying your talents to further the organization. For myself, it could be developing a communications plan or outlining a series of special events for the year.

3) LEARN BUSINESS PROTOCOL: One of the first things I learned at board meetings was formality — following “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a book of rules designed to be adopted and used by a deliberative body. This included voting procedures, a transcriptionist documenting discussions/decisions, executive sessions for personnel matters, annual meetings, new business, old business, unfinished business, etc.

4) LEARN FROM EXECUTIVES: Board members are often professionals at the top of their field, sharing expertise and giving back. Much can be learned from those with more experience or holding positions we aspire to. 

5) EXPAND YOUR NETWORK: In today’s environment, it’s crucial to have a network of professionals with strong knowledge of work, skills and abilities. By demonstrating your value, over time, people will notice and respect your talents. This can lead to more professional references, learning about unadvertised job openings, new networking opportunities, etc.

6) INCREASE FUTURE VALUE: If you’re planning to move into management, the experience is invaluable. You’ll bring more to the table than others who haven’t made this professional investment: you’ve been tested in dealing with core organizational/strategic issues and better equipped to honestly say “been there, done that.”

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QUESTION TO READERS:

Care to share your experiences serving on a nonprofit board?

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