Great Expectations (and Possibilities): Joining A Board of Directors

Thinking about joining a board of directors? Ready to volunteer your time and expertise as a board member for an organization near and dear to your heart? Recent Project LEAD graduate? Thumbs up from all of us at United Way!

Nonprofit board service shouldn’t be entered into lightly. In a sense, you’re running the show (no pressure). But that doesn’t mean you have to sit in a conference room for hours each meeting.

This is your chance to support your community in unique ways, like attending special events, volunteering in sleeves-rolled-up ways and making new connections. To make your job easier, we compiled the top expectations of board members across the nonprofit world.

Top 10 responsibilities for YOU on a board of directors

  1. Make a personal financial contribution to the organization. In other words, become a donor. We put this first because no nonprofit wants it to be a surprise. Because that gets awkward quickly. Why make a donation? You need to set an example as a board member. If you’re not willing to give to the organization, how can you ask others to support it?
  2. Attend all meetings and events. No exceptions here, friend. We asked you to join the board of directors because we need you. And while we’re at it, definitely come prepared—read over the agenda and materials beforehand to make the most of your volunteered time.
  3. Be informed about the organization’s mission, services, policies and programs. As part of a board of directors, you get to do some directing—as a spokesperson for the organization. You need to know what the organization does.
  4. Serve on committees and offer to take on special assignments. Some boards have committee requirements, some don’t. But take advantage and do the most with the time you have.
  5. Inform others about the organization. AKA become a megaphone that only talks about the awesome work the organization (and your board) is doing! Knowing what makes your organization different from the others can be your biggest proof point.
  6. Leverage your network. Boards are constantly recruiting new members, and you’ll be expected to help suggest qualified, well-connected nominees to join you.
  7. Keep up-to-date on developments in the organization’s field. Similar to how you would for your career, it’s important to know of any improvements, trends, policy changes or innovations that are coming down the pike.
  8. Follow conflict of interest and confidentiality policies. There are rules when serving on boards that will be reviewed when you first join. You must adhere to them!
  9. Refrain from making special requests of the staff. Take it from us, nonprofit staff members are generally working their tails off. Do you really need one more report run or special parking accommodations? The staff is there to carry out the mission of the organization. Treat them with respect and honor their time.
  10. Carry out the board’s fiduciary responsibilities. You, along with your fellow board members, are responsible for tasks like reviewing the organization’s financial statements. If you don’t know much about this, brush up on your skills before joining a board, as it’s your legal duty as a member.

Your duties stretch FAR beyond just these 10. Collectively as a board of directors, you and your fellow members are also responsible for important tasks like determining the organization’s mission, evaluating the CEO and hiring a new CEO if necessary, safeguarding the organization’s assets and much more.

Sound weighty? It’s also a way to make a weighty difference on issues that matter to you and your community. But it’s not a bad idea to take a training course. You want to make sure you know what you’re signing up for and have the tools to be a successful board member. If you’re a person of color, check out and apply for Project LEAD.

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