Does Board Service Help?

We all have a LOT going on. Work commitments, family obligations, the never-ending list of things to do. We’re already pulled in a dozen different directions, likely trying to steal time from wherever we can get it. So why would you pile one more thing in the mix? Maybe you already volunteer with a nonprofit in your area and you think, isn’t that enough? Could serving on a nonprofit board actually move you forward?

Early in my career, I put off joining a nonprofit board or volunteering because I felt I was too busy with a growing family, work, and business travel. Looking back, I see that was a costly mistake on my part. Not only did I lose, but my community lost as well. 

There are many reasons to become a volunteer or a board member; some are selfless, some personal, and some may actually be smart career moves. 

I have found most people volunteer out of a compelling sense of service to others; some out of passion for a particular cause. But there are so many more reasons to give up some personal time and to help others if these two are not already enough. Serving on a nonprofit board can be essential for developing your professional skills and expanding your network. Need a few more reasons? 

5 Reasons Serving on a Nonprofit Board Could Help Your Career

1. Expand your network by building relationships with other leaders.

Sure you can attend networking events, connect with people online and do a variety of other things to make new professional contacts. But nothing will build valuable relationships like working with other leaders on a shared goal. Serving on a board gives you an opportunity to meet and work with people you never would have met. It also gives them a chance to see you in action. If there’s an opening at one of their companies, or they learn of an opportunity, their experience with you may push you to the front of their mind.

2. Develop your leadership style so you will be ready when the opportunity comes at work.

Want to get noticed at work? Your unique style of leadership may be one of the most important factors in moving forward. Serving on a nonprofit board will give you the opportunity to test and build your leadership skills. Not only will you learn how you lead, but you’ll have a chance to observe and interact with other leaders. This can help you see what you like, what you don’t like, and what behaviors you may want to model in your own leadership. 

3. Develop your critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills — and see their value — when serving at the top of a complex organization.

You could wait years to gain significant leadership experience from your current role. Volunteering or serving on a nonprofit board of directors will give you a unique perspective of an organization — allowing you to see the whole agency, rather then just one role, or the role of your team. The ability to think critically, and solve problems with innovation are two of the most sought-after skills in the workplace. 

4. Learn how to delegate, trust, and rely on others.

Want to get hands-on experience at one of the most difficult challenges for new (and sometimes even seasoned) leaders? Get involved in nonprofit board leadership and learn to delegate to committee members, team members, and even volunteers. A nonprofit presents a unique challenge. Many of the people that are involved in getting things done may not even work for the agency in the traditional way. They are choosing to donate their time. Can you help lead them? Can you provide direction and motivation to get the job done when you’re not directly involved in doing it? Master this skill and see the huge benefits in your role at work. 

5. Immerse yourself in a real-life crash course in personal development.

You’ll learn more serving on a nonprofit board in a year then you could reading a dozen books. Develop self-confidence by taking on new challenges and stretching yourself. Develop an entrepreneurial, can-do mindset by rolling up your sleeves and digging into a new project, with a new team. Learn how to cope with limited resources and still succeed. Learn to navigate challenging situations when dealing with passionate stakeholders, with different motivators — volunteers, staff, donors, foundations, and key community partners.

These are only 5 of the many reasons serving on a nonprofit board can be a good decision, and they don’t even touch on the intangible benefits.

Serving your community, giving back, making a difference for a cause that’s important to you. Board service can even make you more effective at work by giving your brain a break from thinking about the day-to-day and focusing on a different situation / set of problems.

I strongly encourage you to consider joining a nonprofit board if you have even an inkling of interest. Find a cause you are passionate about and reach out. Board chairs and executive directors are always willing to sit and chat about service on their board. Don’t wait to take advantage of an opportunity to improve your leadership skills and enrich your life. 

Remember, if you want to get ahead, you will have to get involved.

Thinking more about becoming a board member or recently joined your first board? Learn what you need to know to be successful and make a difference.