If you are currently serving on a nonprofit board - or you’re joining one in 2018 - you most likely uncovered the basics in your due diligence.
You know you are legally liable for the organization. You’ve read the strategic plan, bylaws, financial statements and board member job description. You’ve met staff and other board members to get a sense of the company culture.
On our end, nonprofit leaders do our best to prepare new board members for a great term.
We identify people with the skills and attributes needed to advance the mission, ideally those who are already strong supporters. We put together manuals, discuss expectations, send out dates to remember and hold informative and motivating orientations.
Even after this great preparation, many board members become disappointed and frustrated during their term. I believe some of these problems can be avoided if these two questions are honestly and openly discussed before accepting the responsibility of board membership.
Do you love the mission?
This goes beyond understanding and appreciating the mission. Do you love the mission like you love your favorite restaurant or beach spot?
Do you love it enough to tell your friends about it and invite them to come with you?
Board members serve as representatives of the organization and provide tremendous value when they increase the nonprofit’s network of supporters. I tell my prospective board members, “I want to know the people you know.”
If you are a board member in love with the mission, you will invite your friends to help you change the world!
WARM’s board members invite their colleagues to sponsor and attend events. They also share our campaigns on social media, thank donors personally and create unique fundraisers, such as a scrapbook event and a game night.
You’re a busy person. But you will remember, talk about, and make time for things you love.
What does the organization need from you specifically?
This question digs deeper than the board member job description and strategic plan goals.
You were invited to serve for a specific reason, maybe something that only you can provide. Before agreeing to serve, make sure it is something you are willing to give. Don’t assume!
Most nonprofits need board members who are willing and able to increase the resources, thereby the impact, of the organization. Does the nonprofit expect a major gift from you? Introductions to new donors? Event planning expertise?
The organization may be looking for representation from your company. Are you willing to be the liaison? Can you help secure a donation or volunteers from the company?
For example, several WARM board members work for banks and have been very successful at securing large gifts from their employers.
The nonprofit may need your professional skills. Are you willing to donate them?
If the nonprofit has no or few staff members, you may be needed in executing the mission. Is this a good fit for you?
Community leaders are frequently invited to help build the organization’s reputation among their peers.
WARM’s board president is Joe Finley, Co-Founder of CastleBranch. After several years of championing CastleBranch’s involvement with WARM through voluntarism and donations, Joe joined our board with a passion for telling more business leaders about the benefits of getting involved with WARM. He has raised lots of money and volunteers!
It may be awkward to discuss this question in the beginning, but clearing up expectations will help ensure a rewarding and productive board member term.
Read this online guidebook
for more resources on board leadership.
Combining her professional experience in the Cape Fear region’s housing and real estate for-profit sector and volunteer experience with disaster recovery and housing-related nonprofits, JC Lyle (formerly Skane) was hired in 2009 to serve as the executive director of Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM). WARM is a grassroots nonprofit whose mission is to make homes safer by completing urgent repairs, accessibility upgrades and storm damage. Under her leadership, WARM has steadily grown from serving 44 households in 2008 to 155 households in 2016. Her public recognition includes Wilma Magazine's 2012 Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category, a 2014 Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNC Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and invitations to speak at NC Center for Nonprofits Conference and NC Affordable Housing Conference. She will graduate in May with her Master of Business Administration at UNC-Wilmington.