The success of a nonprofit organization depends on public support and confidence – and on volunteers, specifically in the role as a member of the governing body. Maybe you have a special skill that, when combined with a passion for helping others, you could find yourself being asked to participate as a member of the board of directors of a nonprofit. There are many things to consider before you accept. Consider these five:
What is the mission of the organization?
There should be a clearly defined purpose and programs should run effectively and efficiently to achieve the goals. You should consider if the mission is personal to you – is it something you feel connected to? As a board member, no matter what role you assume, you will be required to act as a champion of the organization – and it will be important that when you tell the story, it is genuine.
What is the organization’s reputation?
Get familiar with the organization; find out what you can from a little due diligence. Get a copy of the latest Form 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax referred to as the annual tax return which can be obtained from various websites (guidestar.org; nccs.org) – or the organization may have posted a copy on their website for easy access. Read the return, look at some of the financial results – are they operating on a surplus or a deficit? Do they have significant restrictions on net assets? Do they have corporate governance policies in place? Are you comfortable with what you see?
How can you help – specifically?
The first step is easy – you need to make a financial contribution. Period. You need to have some skin in the game – show that as a member of the organization’s leadership, a direct personal financial contribution is evidence of your support. You should also know if there is a minimum expectation of your financial contribution before you join a board. And you should also consider your own personal limitations and budget.
What is the time commitment?
Serving on a board should be considered an honor and a commitment. Your participation at meetings will be key. Generally organizations have a regular meeting schedule set for some period in advance and you should have these on your calendar. Make sure that you have time to give 100% before making the commitment.
What are your legal and fiduciary responsibilities?
Understanding this is paramount. Look to the federal, state and local laws for some guidance. In Ohio, you should also check out the Ohio Association for Nonprofit Organizations (OANO), which provides excellent meaningful outlines in their publication: Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. Also, check if the organization has directors and officers insurance. In the event that a legal matter arises this coverage would be helpful.
These same considerations might apply to the nonprofit organization looking for volunteers. The advice could be interchangeable.
Organizations exist to help match skills with needs, for example, Business Volunteers Unlimited is one. So why not sign on to volunteer as a member of leadership for an organization whose mission you care about and have time to serve? While your role as a member of the governance team will be seen as part of the crucial oversight of management and management will welcome your contributions, you will be providing an important community service – and that should always be something to feel good about.