Many of us in the community choose to dedicate time to supporting local nonprofit organizations. Serving on a nonprofit board is a meaningful way to share your time and talents.
But now what? Volunteering on a board is a commitment. You're the community trustee and are responsible for setting the vision of the organization. Being a good board member means determining the organization direction and then handing off to staff (or working volunteers, as appropriate) to implement. A gold star board member doesn't just let the staff carry out the work—a gold star board member empowers the staff to carry out the work.
Know the work.
A good board member knows and values the mission of the organization.
A gold star board member knows how the organization carries out the mission. Plan to attend at least one special programming event each year—a graduation, an art show, a performance, et cetera—and meet the people who are impacted by the work of the organization. As a bonus, share your love of the mission by bringing a friend with you! Spend a morning or a day with the nonprofit on a "regular" day, sit in on a class or ask to shadow a staff member. Read your nonprofit's newsletters, annual reports or brochures, and when you see a Facebook post or news story, share it with your network.
Know the staff.
As a board member, you'll most likely be asked to serve on at least one board committee in addition to attending the main board meetings. A good board member attends meetings and reads any materials ahead of the meeting.
A gold star board member engages in the work. Meet the staff member who leads your committee for coffee or lunch and share with them why you joined the board and what you care about. Share what you like as well as what you might change. Learn from the staff what they love most about their work and the mission. Be the staff's ally. Respond to e-mails within 48 hours, even if the response is that you can't answer the question right at that time. If you can't do something, let the staff know as soon as possible. They'll appreciate your honesty and promptness.
Do you have a special skill set? For example: If you're a writer, have you thought about writing a nomination for your nonprofit to win a community award? Are you a handyman? You may be able to help the nonprofit with some little fix-it problems. Computer skills? Help once a year with checking all the computer systems to make sure everything is backed up and protected. Brainstorm with the executive director or senior staff about how you can share that talent. Being involved means going the extra mile.
Be the rock star ambassador.
A good board member makes an annual personal and meaningful gift to support the nonprofit and attends the fundraising events.
A gold star board member actively supports the fundraising work. If you or your company has a table at another nonprofit event, ask the executive director or development director to be your guest. Nominate the organization as a guest speaker for a Rotary meeting or another association. Schedule a time to meet with your development director and brainstorm how you can assist in making connections. Offer to be "on call" to help with donor thank you notes as needed, or plan to come for an hour or two a couple of times each year to sit in the development office and assist however needed.
A gold star board member is a passionate member of the nonprofit's team. The more that you empower the work of the organization, the more excited and energized you will be. Your investment will pay dividends hundreds of times over through the impact that you have. Because of you, your community will be a stronger, more vibrant place to live.
Written by Michele Suchovsky, executive director of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation.