Getting There

How to Target and Join a Nonprofit Board

By Gerry Czarnecki

You’ve considered all of the challenges to being on a board, and you’ve decided you want to get involved, so now it is time to find out how to get on a board. Most nonprofits are anxious to find directors, so you might find the process quite simple—or it could be a real challenge, depending on what you are willing to do to get there.

Again, here are some things that can set the wheels in motion to become a board member. Many of these might sound too over-the-top, or they might seem simple. It depends upon who you are and whay
you can actually commit to.

First, determine the nonprofits that have causes for which you have a passion. My advice: Never join a nonprofit board whose mission and vision fall short of where your interests and passion rest.

The easiest—and, for many, the least possible—way to get on a board is to make an unrestricted donation equal to the annual operating budget of the entity. With that gift, they will have a well-polished seat for you. I know you think I’m being cynical and sarcastic, but it’s quite realistic to expect that a major donor could be a director almost entirely because of the magnitude of the contribution.

A more realistic series of actions might start with volunteering for the organization.

Another would be to start making an annual membership contribution, and then buying into, and attending, the events being used to raise funds.

Network at events where the nonprofit is represented, so you can meet members of the board and the leadership team. Networking works in gaining access to boards, no matter what type.

Use the power of your day job to create a contribution pattern from your company or organization. The reason CEOs often sit on nonprofit boards is, in part, a function of their ability to direct contributions or related marketing dollars to the nonprofits for which they have a commitment. If you have a senior leadership position, you will be a highly desirable candidate.

Reach out to the nonprofit’s executive director or president and ask how you might help the cause.

Network with, and connect to the board chair and/or the leader of the governance committee. And, if you know members of the board, reach out to them and indicate your interest.

If you do all of these, I predict you’ll quickly become a candidate for a nonprofit board seat.

Once you start this process, you are probably going to get on the prospect list for many boards, so be sure to refer back to the first point and commit only to those for which you have both time and passion. If you actually can take these steps, you’ll be a board member—and then the work will begin at being an effective governance member.

Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or gmc@deltennium.com.

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