insight magazine

Why You Need to Join a Nonprofit Board

The networking opportunities alone are reason enough to use your talents for nonprofit board service — but there's more. By Renee Beckman, CPA | Digital Exclusive - 2018


The nonprofit boardroom can be a daunting place. Let’s face it, ensuring an organization is positioned to thrive now and well into the future is no easy task. The success of nonprofits and their missions is directly linked to the innovativeness of the leaders tasked with guiding the business, finance, and administration side of things. And don’t be fooled by the term nonprofit; while their aim is to fund their cause, revenues must grow in order to sustain services just like any company.

Nonprofits have suffered in recent years due to state budget issues, the slow recovery from the Great Recession, and shifting priorities of members and donors. So why would you, a business leader already having to do more with less, even consider carving out time to fill a high-responsibility role on a nonprofit board?

Beyond getting behind a cause and making a positive, tangible contribution to the world at large, the networking opportunities that come with nonprofit board service are exceptional and can be a big catalyst for your career. Most of our personal networks include people we know through work, school, and social gatherings. Becoming a nonprofit board member further diversifies that network, simply by virtue of the fact that these boards draw together professionals from all disciplines, from marketing and fundraising to administration and accounting. Business and career opportunities, as well as other board appointments, are the logical next step.

In “How Serving Non-Profit Boards: Why Should an Executive Bother?,” G.A. Finch explains, “Prestigious leadership programs, like the competitive Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, won’t usually even consider a candidate without demonstrated civic participation. Some senior executives designate their subordinates to serve on boards in their stead. This is a way for companies to ‘groom’ their up-and-coming fast-track executive stars.”

He adds, “I have discussed with many executives the merits of serving on nonprofits as preparation to serve on for-profit boards, and the consensus was that the experience is relevant and has value. Look around, leaders in your community or profession serve on non-profit boards.”

Board experience at a nonprofit could also lead to an appointment on a for-profit company’s board. The broad, hands-on experience often gained in the nonprofit boardroom transitions well to a traditional corporate setting where operational and financial understanding is highly valued.

Becoming a board member also opens opportunities to mentor staff. Transferring skills is imperative to the growth and maturity of any organization, nonprofit or for-profit, and mentoring exposes more of the inner workings of the outfit, adds value to the operation, and establishes goodwill.

This mentoring concept has really taken hold. In fact, MBA programs are increasingly matching students with one-year fellowships on nonprofit boards. The programs require students to complete a project that utilizes their business skills while also helping the board operate more effectively. In addition to stressing corporate social responsibility, these initiatives are a way to get young people involved in board service early on — an accomplishment that helps to rapidly build up resumes for rising talent.

From fulfilling your altruistic goals to networking professionally and mentoring future talent, the reasons for carving time out of your schedule for board service are clear. Now get out there and help make a difference in your community, and in your career.

Renee Beckman, CPA is the founder and CEO of Limitless Search Inc., a specialized accounting and finance executive search, contract resources, and corporate recruiting consulting firm.

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