How Do You Join a Nonprofit Board?

Serving on a nonprofit board is a worthwhile way to increase the impact of a nonprofit while also enhancing your career.

Print this page

As you move forward in your career, you may want to contribute more than money to nonprofit organizations that support causes you care about. Serving on a nonprofit board is a worthwhile way to increase the impact of a nonprofit and help shape its future. Board experience will also enhance your career. You will build your network and gain insight into managing with limited resources. But searching for a board position can seem mysterious or even daunting. Here’s how to get started. 

Determine your area of focus.

Think about the social issues and public needs that most interest you. You will be an ambassador for the organization and will communicate its mission to others, so it is important that you feel strongly about the organization’s intended impact. For example, if you are interested in the environment, think about the type of change you want to make. Are you dedicated to improving local resources, such as a state park? Or do you want to contribute to global conservation efforts? 

Begin with a basic Internet search. Refine the list by visiting guidestar.org, which provides publicly available financial information for all nonprofits. Further, check out relevant foundations’ lists of grantees. (If a foundation has funded a nonprofit, the staff has already conducted due diligence on the nonprofit’s mission, management team, and financial position.) Finally, ask your peers or colleagues if they serve on any nonprofit boards; you may find an interesting organization through referrals. 

Attend volunteer events. 

Sign up for nonprofits’ communications and attend a few volunteer or fundraising events to help determine if you are a good fit for the organization. These events will give you a sense of the organization’s priorities and constituencies. Explore how your values align with those of others affiliated with the organization, and make connections that may aid in contacting the organization. 

With board experience, you will build your network and gain insight into managing with limited resources.

You may have heard that the three things that board members give to nonprofit organizations are “time, talent, and treasure.” Before you reach out to a nonprofit, be realistic about your ability to serve on a board. Nonprofit boards typically meet two to four times a year, and there may be additional committee meetings. Next, consider the “talent” that you can offer. Executives from a variety of industries provide valuable assets to nonprofits, from marketing expertise to media know-how. Finally, determine your own giving level; it’s best to be upfront about the amount you are willing to donate. 

Reach out to the organization. 

If you do not have a contact on the board, contact the executive director or director of development to express your interest. Most nonprofits are continually looking for new board members and would welcome such an inquiry. Once you have established a connection, ask questions to determine if you are a good fit: How is the board structured? How often does it meet? What percentage of board members regularly attend board meetings? Is there a financial commitment for board members, and how much is it? What are the goals of the organization? 

Use the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise as a resource.

At any point in the process, seek guidance and support from the Tamer Center, which has strong affiliations with nonprofits across sectors. If you hope to join a nonprofit board, contact us to share your interests. Or if you are on a board and looking for new board members, we can help spread the word to fellow alumni.

Gwen Shufro ’06 is the assistant director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise and runs the Nonprofit Board Leadership Program.

articles by Topic