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10 Ways to Be a Great Non-Profit Board Member

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Public service is a great way to give back to the community—and to be a better Kingdom builder! Here are 10 ways to be a valuable non-profit board member.

I believe in public service and in giving back to the community. While I was in the business world, serving in an elected office, and now in ministry, I have continued to volunteer in the community in which I live. I believe it’s truly the best way to be a Kingdom-builder.

Along the way, I have served on dozens of non-profit boards at the state and local level. I have worked with nationally known organizations, such as Boys Scouts, Red Cross, United Way, and YMCA and numerous other local non-profit ministries and service organizations. I realize the value of non-profits in community development.

It could easily be said that the success of any non-profit is directly related to the strength of its board. Finding, training and keeping good board members is a critical part of non-profit leadership. With this recognition, I have also helped develop non-profit boards over the years.

With that experience, I share a few thoughts for those who set out to serve in such noble ways.

Here are 10 ways to be a great non-profit board member:

Find out what’s expected. Determine what they expect a board member to do — preferably before agreeing to serve. Know what the role of a board member  is, how they define a “great” board member, and consider how the requirements fit with your talents, abilities, and schedule. Don’t agree to serve unless you know you can meet the expectation.

Live up to expectations. If you agree to serve, serve well.  Work the meetings into your schedule, participate in activities expected of board members, and fulfill the obligations expected of you. Don’t make them feel awkward about you being on the board. I’ve served on boards where no one knew where the person was and yet no one wanted to have the awkward conversation in order to learn. Granted, they should, but, in my opinion, the weight of responsibility to shift to the one who is supposedly a good enough leader to be considered for the position.

Learn the organization. It’s hard to lead what you don’t understand. I’ve seen board members who just sit in meetings and vote. They don’t learn the language of the organization or ever feel a deep commitment to the cause. Don’t be that member. Participate. Show up when things are most exciting. Ask questions. Learn the “lingo”. It’s the responsible thing to do and you’ll make better decisions.

Don’t micro-manage. You are there to advise and hold accountable — not to run the place. You should check your power at the table of decision-making. There may be times when you need a more active role in day-to-day operations, but those should be rare — not a regular occurrence.

Invest your strengths. You bring qualities to the board no one else has. Figure out why you are there and what your unique purpose is for the board and organization. Then leverage yourself for the good of the organization. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so you may not be a good fit for the board.

Be a connector. This may be one of the best roles for a board member. You have influence places the organization may not yet have. Use your network of connections for the good of the organization.

Ask good questions. In the end, even though you shouldn’t micromanage, it is your job as a board member to protect the integrity of the organization. That may involve asking hard questions — the ones you may not even feel comfortable asking.

You may be the only one who is thinking the way you are, but you may not be. You may regret not asking later. There are no bad questions, but there may be some great questions, which protect the mission, and you may be the only one brave enough to ask them. Be kind always. Believe the best in others. But, do the right thing.

Willingly be a fundraiser.  If it is part of the assignment – work to raise money. Remember, you are not asking for yourself, but for a cause in which you believe. Money is the leading need of most every non-profit. Not every board is required to raise money. Every organization appreciates when a board member recognizes the need.

Don’t overstay your welcome. When it’s time to go — go! Most boards will have some board rotation, but do everyone a favor and leave when you lose enthusiasm to be effective and useful.

If the board agrees — replace yourself. Finding a good board member is hard for any non-profit.  Leave them well by recommending quality people to replace the spot you leave void.

What am I missing? What would you add to the list?

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