By Tara Bitzan, Executive Director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
Looking for a way to volunteer that offers you a professional growth opportunity? Consider serving on a board of directors for a nonprofit organization!
Board members are responsible for “governing” an organization, not “managing” it. Management and the daily tasks of the organization are typically handled by a paid executive director and other staff members, sometimes with help from volunteers.
Governance is high level – think visioning, strategy and accountability – whereas management is the day-to-day operations. The board of directors, as a governing body, should focus on the organization’s mission, strategy and goals. Staff members are responsible for the implementation of those.
Most organizations have set terms for board members, which typically fall between two and five years. A common meeting frequency is once a month for one to two hours, however, this varies greatly from organization to organization.
There are no IRS guidelines to determine who is certified to be on a board, but often organizations have criteria they use when filling open positions. This varies widely from organization to organization, but it is best practice to find individuals within the community who have the passion and experience that aligns with the nonprofit’s mission.
The Alexandria Chamber, for instance, is strategic in ensuring that the many different industry sectors in the community are represented on the board, such as manufacturing, health care, education, retail, banking, hospitality, etc.
Some organizations may be strategic in seeking someone with strong financial, legal or human resources knowledge to advise and direct the organization in those areas.
Here are some things to think about when considering board service:
Board service is not something one should dive into without some research and contemplation. You are not doing the organization any favors if you accept a position but don’t follow through with meeting attendance or other expectations. While board service is voluntary to the board member, it is extremely vital to the wellbeing of the organization and is something to be taken seriously.
It is also important that you educate yourself on the organization and its mission, services and programming before making the commitment. It’s easy to say “yes” to a mission statement, but later realize you don’t agree with some of the operations or programming. Looking out for an organization’s best interest would be challenging if you are not in alignment with what they are trying to do or how they are doing it.
It is also important to discuss the opportunity with your employer prior to making the commitment to ensure you have his/her support and to ensure there are no conflicts of interest.
Last piece of advice – don’t wait to be asked! If you have identified an organization that you deem a good fit, let them know you are interested in serving. Most organizations keep track of interested persons and when a position opens up, they are the first to be contacted. If you don’t voice your interest, you may never be asked.
There are many rewards to serving on a board. The lessons learned in visioning, strategic planning, high level thinking, etc. can be invaluable to your own company. The service may also open up some other leadership opportunities for you down the road!