Getting Involved on a Nonprofit Board: 4 Experts Share their Knowledge

The inspiration for today’s post came from an observation about LinkedIn profiles. I noticed that ‘join a not-for-profit board‘ seems prevalent.

Hmm, interesting…

So, I reached out to my LinkedIn network for past and present board members – to invite them to contribute their knowledge and point of view, based on these questions:

  1. Why did you join the board of a non profit?
  2. What is (was) your role and responsibilities?
  3. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to join a board?

Here’s what the 4 guest experts had to say:

Samuel Dunsiger, Writer, Marketer and Communications Specialist

So, I’m on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stuttering Association. It’s unlike other organizations in the sense that it’s entirely volunteer-run. There are no staff members. Actually, the board runs the entire organization. Each of us has a different role, depending upon our experiences.

Given my marketing and PR experience, I’m responsible for PR, publicity and social media for the Canadian Stuttering Association. We have a range of backgrounds and perspectives on the board, from parents of people who stutter, to speech language pathologists.

Samuel’s Advice:

I wasn’t actually seeking out a board to join. The reason why I joined the board of this particular organization is because of my personal interest in the organization, being someone who stutters myself.

With that in mind, my best piece of advice when seeking out an organization is to make sure it’s a cause/organization/vision that you’re passionate about. Make sure your passion aligns with theirs.

Anthony F. Saad, Innovation Artist and Founder

I was a member of Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts for about a year and had assisted/developed projects for them previously. I joined the board of directors because I was increasingly involved with large scale projects and I wanted to learn about how decisions were made, and after finding out I wanted to provide some direction and clarity for the organization.

In the beginning, I was a board member at large, I joined the FUTURES Committee as co-chair. To plan the future, we had to take stock of the current state of Propeller and review where we came from, who we were now, and where we wanted to go.

Currently I am the Chair of Programming responsible for all programming at the gallery.

Anthony’s Advice:

Be clear about why you want to participate at the executive level – you will be legally accountable for the organization.

Non profits can be tricky with many stakeholders, find a way to keep moving forward in a professional manner. Keep the story-telling to a minimum, come to meetings prepared, do what you say you will do. If you believe something is not working look for a solution rather than bitch about it.

John Ryerson, Cultural Strategist and Social Justice Activist

I joined Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement (CPAMO) to advance pluralism and help the Executive Director achieve his goals. We only incorporated 2 yrs. ago, being a movement doesn’t qualify for funding if not incorporated.

My roles and responsibilities: Board chair, governance, policy, fundraising and being the voice at meetings that it is not politic for the Executive Directors to say with funders and at conferences. We are trying to break barriers, it isn’t always easy.

John’s Advice:

Understand the difference between acting as a board member and when you are volunteering to help out whether on an event or something you have expertise in e.g.: marketing. A good chair keeps meetings clearly divided on when it slips into operational or volunteer discussions.

Lisette Andreyko-Peerlings, Business Analyst, TRIEC – Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council

After working for a non-profit organization for 2.5 years, I wanted to understand better the mechanism of governance, so I would have a more holistic view of what it is like to be involved in the non-profit sector.

Naturally, I wanted to have this experience with an organization that I knew did important work I personally feel passionate about and that was well-rounded. I found this at Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter and was impressed with the work their staff carries out daily as well as the board of directors.

I joined the board as a regular Director and their Fundraising Committee for the first year. The second year I was requested to become their Secretary and in the third year I also held the Fundraising Chair position.

Lisette’s Advice:

I actually have two pieces of advice!

First of all, find a board position that is likely to give you the experience you are looking for. In other words, if you are looking for a working board position, look for a smaller (and/or newer organization) where staff requires more operational support.

If you want to experience a governance role, search for a more established organization and have a chat with the Executive Director to better understand what your role would entail.

Second of all, whether you are new or have experience in serving on a board, it is always good to inform yourself of the board culture and whether they have on-boarding, training and even succession planning in place. Depending on the non-profit organization and the type of board, you may need to learn about fundraising, legal issues, planning, HR, etc – this is essential to ensure you learn as much as you’d like and are able to serve to the best of your ability.

Next Steps

Still feeling unsure about joining a board?

Consider leveraging your LinkedIn network for board members who can answer your questions.

Or, check out Volunteer Toronto’s upcoming Becoming a Board Member workshop:

Are you an experienced professional interested in volunteering in a leadership role?

Becoming A Board Member is a two-hour interactive workshop perfect for professionals who have an interest in volunteering at a leadership level and want to learn more about becoming a Board Director before they commit.

By the end of the session you’ll know the answers to the following questions:

  • What is a Board of Directors and why do organizations need them?
  • What skills do I need to sit on a Board?
  • Do I need previous Board experience?
  • What do I need to know about the Board before I decide to accept a board position?
  • What are the benefits of volunteering on a Board?
  • How do I find a non-profit to join the board of?

Volunteer Toronto Workshop dates:

Cost: $10 (Refreshments provided)

Do you have any tips or advice to share? Please leave your comments.