There are many reports and studies that tell us about the sameness of many nonprofit boards, and how those boards continue to replicate the same demographics over time. In race, gender, lived and professional experience, boards tend to check the same boxes over and over for their slates.
We think there is immense talent throughout the state of Louisiana, and that diverse representation is strength. This is part of why our team at Blue Cross is very proactive about recruiting, training and helping to place non-profit board members from the talent pool of colleagues we are lucky enough to enjoy. We want to connect our co-workers to causes they are passionate about and place them in positions to have high impact, while helping to make sure board rooms reflect the communities in which they work.
Through this work we are asked frequently by community members, coworkers and more, “How do you get chosen, approached or nominated for a non-profit board?”
Here’s what we’ve seen in organizations across the state: in many cases, you just have to ask.
Well, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the thrust of it. Self-replicating systems like committees and non-profit boards need new energy and insights from those who know what they have to offer and who are passionate about making a change. And if you prepare correctly, presenting yourself for service will more than likely yield an invitation when the time is right.
Here’s what we’d suggest you need to do to prepare:
- Be honest with yourself about why you want to serve.
This is incredibly important. Find your reason for service and get real. You can be motivated by a deep connection to the cause, but if you’re also getting involved for career advancement or networking, that’s okay too. Keep your reasons clear and honest – because your tenure as a director will occasionally be less than glamerous (long volunteer hours at inconvenient times, having to ask for money, board or CEO drama, etc.). If you aren’t clear about what you’re getting out of the commitment, you’re more likely to fold your hand and walk away – which can be very damaging to the organization you pledged to serve and lead you to not achieve what you set out to in the first place.
- Get some basic training on non-profit board governance.
Get a basic, working knowledge of what your duties will be and make sure it’s what you see yourself doing. Understand the distinctions between governance and management. Get a clear picture of your duties under the law, and the limitation of your authority. The nonprofit world is far too often saturated with well-meaning people who have never even Youtubed the basics of board governance. As those serving a non-profit we care about, we need to be informed and live up to our responsibilities.
- Know your value, and how you see yourself contributing.
Have an updated resume and understand exactly how you see yourself contributing. Are you a cracker jack fundraiser? Great at marketing? Can you provide pro bono legal or accounting service? Do you represent the voice of the clients served by the organization? Do you bring diversity and representation to the board? In addition to your basic board duties, understand your value, communicate that to the non-profit and be ready to execute on this.
- Pick a few organizations and ask to meet with their executive directors.
Narrow in to two or three organizations you’d like to serve with and ask to meet with their executive directors or board chairs over coffee or lunch. The ask is simple: “I’m very interested in serving on the board of ABC. I believe I have XYZ to offer. What can you tell me about this organization? How can I get involved and how could I be nominated to serve?”
Before you accept any invitation to serve, make sure you ask the essential questions. Review the financials. Audit a board meeting if you can. This gives you one final change to be clear on the opportunities and challenges.
From there, dive in. And through your service push the organization to be better, and to have the biggest impact it can on behalf of the people served and the community more broadly.
Looking for an introduction? Talk to your colleagues, your manager or organization you already work with. They are regularly happy to make connections. Or reach out to us, we’re always looking to hear form organizations looking to recruit board members and if we can be helpful in connecting, we are happy to do so.
– Michael Tipton
President, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation
Head of Community Relations
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