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Should I Join a Nonprofit Organization's Board of Directors?

Volunteer Leadership at the Highest Level

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I already volunteer and donate, why make more of a commitment?

Volunteering for hours or days throughout the year and making donations when you can are important and valuable contributions. Serving on a nonprofit board of directors at an organization whose mission you believe in will raise the stakes and allow you to directly impact that organization’s ability to carry out its mission, grow, and succeed over the long term. But, it is not a casual commitment.

What does a nonprofit board of directors do?

The “directors” or “trustees” on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization act as its “fiduciaries,” taking on the ultimate responsibility for the way the organization conducts its business and fiscal management and delivers on the trust of its donors to fulfill the mission of the organization.

What is a nonprofit board of directors responsible for?

The IRS gives public service organizations that meet certain criteria “nonprofit status.” The nonprofit organization forms a board of directors to oversee the mission delivery and fiscal management of the organization, make sure that all funds are accounted for and are being used properly, and make sure the organization’s tax returns are being filed properly. When the organization’s budget gets bigger, the board of directors must oversee and approve an annual third-party financial audit. The board also monitors insurance and liability matters for the organization.

Do I have to be an accountant or a lawyer to serve on a nonprofit board?

Not at all. While it is useful for board members to have business management and/or legal and accounting expertise, those skills are not prerequisites for every board member to possess. Each organization has its own unique mission and infrastructure, and the board composition can also be unique, e.g. an arts organization may want artists and gallery owners on its board, while an organization with a mission focused on college scholarships might want educators and college admissions experts. The key is to find the right board for you – one with a mission you believe in and where your particular skills, resources and relationships can add the most value.

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Besides overseeing fiscal management, what else does the board of directors do for an organization?

The board of directors is in place to lead, support, grow and sustain the organization. Not to get down to the operational level, but to share its vision and guide and support the organization’s CEO in managing the organization according to the legal requirements and the standards, goals and objectives set by the board. The board hires and reviews the CEO and the combination of a strong board and a strong CEO will make for a healthy and exemplary organization.

Though not a legal requirement, board members make introductions to other potential supporters of the organization, act as advocates for the organization’s mission and serve as informal ambassadors.

This sounds like a lot of responsibility and risk, am I protected from personal liability?

All nonprofits should maintain General Liability insurance and Directors and Officers insurance policies. Often, an Umbrella Policy is also advised. Before you join a board, it would be wise for you to ascertain that those policies are in place, with adequate payout limits to protect the organization and its board of directors. Those policies, along with competent management and diligent oversight from the board, will eliminate most risk factors.

Is there a financial commitment involved in serving on a nonprofit board of directors?

When you join the board of a nonprofit organization, especially a small to mid-sized organization serving a local constituency, you will be expected to contribute Time, Talent and Treasure. How much of each will depend on the organization’s needs, budget and stage of development. Many non-profit boards institute a “give or get policy” that requires a minimum financial commitment be met annually. That’s just one of the reasons it is very important for you and the organization’s leadership (board and staff) to do some diligence and get to know each other before committing to a board engagement.

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Will I be bored on a board?

That all depends on the organization you choose and that chooses you. If you want to roll your sleeves up and help with events and strategic planning, then a small to mid-sized agency providing direct service to a specific constituency may be the best fit. If you are more interested in making an impact at a systemic level, then a larger or more policy focused organization might be best. There are thousands of organizations and causes to choose from. What’s most important is that you believe in the mission and that the culture of the organization is a good match for you and vice versa.

How can I learn more about serving on the APCH Board of Directors?

So glad you asked! The APCH Board is a group of dedicated professionals and philanthropists from the greater L.A. community, all focused on supporting APCH’s mission to uplift, provide opportunity for, and improve the quality of life of low-income youth and families in South Central L.A. Ours is a high-functioning, hardworking board. Our board members are generous with their time, talent and treasure, and collectively take responsibility for strategic planning and guiding APCH into an expansive future. Our board raises around 20% of the organization’s annual $6.7 million budget. We also have a Leadership Council of emerging professionals, with a more modest financial commitment. If you would like more information, please send an email to our executive director, Jonathan Zeichner at jonathan@apch.org.