Non-Profit Board Membership


Have you ever volunteered or applied to join the board of a non-profit that is associated with the market sector your work tends to focus on?

A local 501.c3 has put out a call for applications to sit on their board for the coming year. It overlaps very well with both my genuine personal interests outside of work, and also with my professional career development. Id love to extend an application to join in some capacity, both for professional and personal reasons. It would be great insight to see how a board operates behind the scenes, and how the fiduciary responsibility for managing a facility's programs can be supported and influenced by those who both use it and care about ensuring its future viability.

I'd love to hear any guidance or recommendations of what to consider when putting oneself forward for this kind of role, when i have no prior experience in a direct capacity (but would likely have more professional background credentials than other applicants they might hope to attract). Past experiences in a similar role are very much appreciated.

Mar 7, 23 5:45 pm

Great topic and statement!  I look forward to responses, too, and will add mine once I dig out from under some deadlines.

Mar 7, 23 6:38 pm  · 

I am a board member of a local preservation group.  We are a 501c and hold modest fundraising campaigns--mostly home/building tours of unique local properties.  We advocate for keeping historic structures (both commercial and residential).  Most of our activities include: getting buildings on the national register, public awareness, connecting owners with state and local resources for tax credits, and identifying qualified trades people that are available to assist with renovations of historic structures.  

As you might imagine, this does sometimes create a unique conflict of interest for daily work as an architect.  As a preservationist, you may run up against developer clients who have a vision that does not include keeping that old one-story brick building on the corner.  In those instances, it's a matter of striking a balance--ensuring that you do your best to remain neutral--attempting to give all sides of the argument.  

It's been enjoyable having an outlet for a passion that somewhat aligns with daily practice--but provides unique opportunities that most projects don't offer. 

Mar 8, 23 10:10 am  · 
1  · 
Wood Guy

I was a founding board member of our state's Passive House group when it changed from being primarily a social club to a 501c(3) trying to do real work. I was on that board for two years. More recently, for my Building Science + Beer group (https://www.thebsandbeershow.c...) we went through the process of setting up as a 501c(3) primarily so we could take the money sponsors wanted to give us and direct it to relevant charities, but by the end of the process we had changed our minds for various reasons. 

For both groups, a major point of discussion when considering new members is what they bring to the table, especially in terms of the depths of their own pockets or their connections to people with money. We had professional guidance that indicated that most NFPs have similar priorities. If you don't have money or connections, you would need more than just an interest; a willingness to work your butt off or needed skills such as bookkeeping or law would be acceptable for consideration. Honestly that part of things is largely what made me leave the first group and discontinue the process for the second group.   

Mar 8, 23 12:16 pm  · 
1  · 

My experience is not so relevant here.  I've been on a couple of boards over about a fifteen-year period.  Both are of the historical association type, and not explicitly professionally oriented-- though some programming does draw various professionals (architects, historians, preservationists, designers, planners, etc.)  So conflicts of interest don't often come up.

Random thoughts here:

  • Bench: your exploratory, self-educational approach is a good one, in my opinion.  You'll have the chance (if not be approached) to serve in other organizations in the future, and your first experience can be helpfully eye-opening.
  • Many organizations are often short of enough smart professionals who want to engage.  Most would snap up a willing volunteer.
  • One downside that shouldn't (but still does) surprise me is the inevitable clash of certain personalities.  Even for those who are not a party to such chafing, such shenanigans are uncomfortable to witness and can detract from other positive work of the group.
  • Not to be a total downer: the level of satisfaction in such groups can range from low to very high, and changes over time.
Mar 12, 23 6:26 pm  · 
2  · 

Gibbost / WG / Citizen,

Much appreciated for the responses. You've already hit on a few of the items i seem a bit lost on.

  • You've all hit on the first thing that's popping out to me; the description for soliciting applications does make explicit mention that while they are looking for a good breadth of background experience that would help them on the board, they are also clearly looking for rainmakers to help bring in funding. Realistically, that's probably not me. My angle would be that I have a good background in these types of facilities from the design/development side and would be providing insight based on that experience. If they are primarily just looking at individuals that can bring in large donors ... that means i'll probably be passed over during the review process.
  • The makeup of their current board appears to be largely from lawyers, accountants, and executives of a few major corporations in the area. I can't tell if that means they are struggling to get people with differing backgrounds to join, or if they are specifically filtering out applicants that don't align with that - thoughts ?
  • I'm also struggling to clearly define what it is they actually do. This makes it difficult to pitch how my background might fit into their organization. The overarching guidance of keeping a fiduciary responsibility to the facility makes sense, but is somewhat too abstract to fully figure out what it means .... more thoughts ?
Mar 13, 23 9:54 am  · 
1  · 

"they are also clearly looking for rainmakers to help bring in funding"  They are indeed because "lawyers, accountants, and executives of a few major corporations in the area"  are high income earners and they work with and socialize with other high-income people that they can hit up for donations.

Depending on the number of board seats, they may or may not have room for someone that brings expertise rather than money.  Some places may try to engage you as some kind of non-board member volunteer advisor of some sort instead. Poorly run organizations will just blow you off.

"what it is they actually do"? That could run the gamut from actively running the non-profit on a daily basis to complete disengagement. It depends a lot on the extent to which the organization is run day-to-day by professional staff that are not board members.  A well-run board will provide orientation about what's expected of you. 

An unspoken aspect will be if the board is democratic and everyone has a voice or it is run in a top-down manner by an autocratic board president or bloc of members.

Mar 13, 23 10:52 am  · 
2  · 

Bench  -go for it .

Common that the contribution of board members is more than a purely economic matter, directors can bring: skills or time, networks, funds.  Highlight your strengths in one or more of those areas.  If/when interviewed ask about the board ‘s funding give- or- get policies or practices.

Keep in mind the issue of timing; board composition goes through cycles, often a function of term limits, there’s a pipeline of folks coming off And coming on. Indicating your availability for the near term, as well as for consideration in future nomination cycles.

Good luck. Sounds like you’re keen on it for all the right reasons, an org would be lucky to have you.

Fwiw, this is from my experience frm multiple years on nonprofit board and on nominating committee

Apr 1, 23 12:27 pm  · 
2  · 

In my experience board service generally comes with either a minimum service commitment (beyond just board meetings) or funding commitment, often both. In addition to direction/strategy or budget approval, so it isn't exclusively about rain-making... c's point regarding term cycles/limits and even just burnout/keeping up attendance are on point though. Generally, some minimum mix of board members with relevant professional experience and interest is usually desired and useful.

Apr 18, 23 12:16 am  · 

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