How to join a Non-Profit Board?

How to join a Non-Profit Board?

May 21, 2016 8:59 am Published by Leave your thoughts

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Service to humanity is the best work of life” JCI Creed

Whenever I’m browsing LinkedIn either looking for potential members, trainers, contacts or speakers, there’s always something that sticks out. Nearly all the profiles I look at show that the user has ticked two specific options on LinkedIn.

Those are as follows:

  • Pro bono consulting
  • Joining a non-profit board

Now, this is probably because LinkedIn asks you to declare what interests you have (along with causes you support) but I always wonder, ‘how many of these people actually do want to do pro-bono consulting and join a non-profit board’?

Boards in the third sector (both charities and social enterprises) are always on the look-out for new board members and trustees. This is usually falls under the remit of the chair and other individual board members but in some smaller charities and social enterprises, this task tends fall under the founder/owner (for small charities, the CEO or Chief Everything Officer!).

At the moment, my volunteer commitments are quite extensive. These include:

My reasoning for getting involved in these organisations was simple; I needed an outlet or my passion and enthusiasm that allowed me to learn new things, meet new people, support my community and test myself in a leadership role. As I explored new things I got hooked and decided to dedicate more time to this mixture of self-development and civic duty.

My reasoning behind this post is simple. I hope to convince others to get involved. With the cost of trustee and board level professional recruitment high and smaller charities and social enterprises in desperate need, I feel the onus should be on individuals to identify ways they can provide their skills and experiences to growing and supporting non-profit organisation.

Here are some helpful tips for getting started:

  1. Find a cause – we all have causes we are passionate about (as LinkedIn suggests we identify) so it helps to narrow things down. There are around 170,000 charities in the UK so there are plenty to chose from.
  2. Use platforms like www.do-it.org – Do-it is a free online platform that helps passionate people find volunteering opportunities locally. It helped me find one of my board positions and I’d encourage to have a search for opportunities near you.
  3. Think where you can add value – the most commonly requests list of skills and experience for non-profit boards include finance (accountancy), HR, legal, marketing and business management. I feel accountancy firms could write a whole CSR policy around supporting charities in finding trustees just via their own workforce.
  4. If you’re young, have a look at Getting on Board – just because you’re young, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider getting involved. Charities and social enterprises will just be pleased that you’re passionate about their cause and providing you add value, they’ll be happy to consider you for a role.
  5. Get in touch – drop the Chair or MD and email and let them know you’re interested in getting involved with their charity or social enterprise, why you’d like to get involved and whether they have any vacancies.
  6. Meet the Chair, CEO, MD or other board member – usually someone will be able to sit down with you and have a chat about joining the board. Treat it informally and just talk about the charity, it’s aims, it’s performance and it’s future.
  7. Ask about commitments – we’re all busy and this is important. Rather than asking what the time commitments are, ask how can I support the organisation and gauge based on the charities requirements. You shouldn’t just be a board member; you should be a supporters, a recruiter, a sense-checker, a sounding board, a mentor, a coach and a beneficiary champion.
  8. Think about it! Don’t dive right in. Take what you’ve learnt away with you and have a think.
  9. Read the information – there are 1,000,000 trustees in the UK and possibly 10,000’s of social enterprise board members. With the title comes both responsibility and accountability, and therefore, you need to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Here are some useful starting points: Governance Code’s Code of Governance, Financial Reporting Council’s Code of Governance, the Charity Commission’s Hallmarks of an Effective Charity. This will inform you what your responsibilities are, how you’re accountable and some guidance on information to ask of the charity.
  10. Request papers, accounts, annual report and observe a board – once you’ve found a charity you like and you’ve met with either the Chair, MD, another board member; you’re free to engross yourself. Request the above documents as a starter and maybe a copy of their strategy. This will give you some good insights in organisational performance, composition etc.
  11. Speak to others – have a chat with another board member or trustee (informal) just to get a feel for their opinions.
  12. Observe a board meeting – if you’re able to observe a board meeting (or part of one) this will give you some insights into the culture of the organisation, the members and the board as a whole.
  13. Get involved – if things look good and you’ll feel ready to go, then do so! Enjoy using your powers for good – like a modern day super-human.

If this post has been helpful then please like and share.

If you currently sit on a not-for-profit board and believe others should do so, please share your experiences below and also give any tips you can think of.

By Philip Cockayne, Chairman of the Yorkshire Group of Junior Chambers (JCI)

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This post was written by James Lambert

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