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October 22, 2020
Give and Receive on Nonprofit Board
By Renee Martinez

Whether you’re starting out in your profession or you’re as busy now that you’re established, you can find the time for — and the ensuing value of — joining a nonprofit board. No matter where you are in your career, you have plenty to offer and there’s just as much to receive.

Dismiss the notion of board membership as a secret society consisting of stern, wealthy people sitting in a boardroom discussing financial issues with frowns on their faces.

Although being on a nonprofit board does involve substantive board discussion about the financial stability of an organization, it also involves so much more, and those involved are usually passionate about the organization’s charitable mission.

Despite the somewhat standoffish name, a board of directors fulfills the mission of the organization it serves, whatever that may be.

Massachusetts has more than 20,000 registered nonprofits, and the missions vary from protecting the local environment, to providing clothing and career counseling to low income women, to aiding the homeless, to running a community arts center.

So, what exactly do board members do? Board members fulfill the mission of the nonprofit by doing the strategic planning, ensuring the financial stability of the organization, fundraising and planning events, serving as resources to the community and donors, selecting and evaluating the organization’s CEO, and volunteering their time and/or money to the organization.

The board is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the organization adheres to legal standards and ethical norms, and for monitoring the effectiveness of the organization’s programs and services.

Nonprofits vary greatly in size, board composition, and mission, so you really can find a place where you fit in and contribute, whatever your skills, interests, or time commitment may be.

Also, in lieu of joining a board, you can join a board’s advisory committee or volunteer in some capacity to get a better sense of how the organization operates, whether you feel comfortable with the organization, and, in turn, whether the board members believe that you’ll be a good match for their needs.

So, what are the benefits of joining a board? Joining a nonprofit board can be a worthwhile endeavor for you, the organization, and the community at large. The organization benefits from your professional skills, creative ideas, and your dedication to its particular causes. It also benefits from having another eager face out there fundraising on its behalf.

As a board member, you can experience personal satisfaction as a result of contributing to a charitable organization whose mission you are committed to. Board membership can enhance your professional and personal networks, and provide communication, team building, and fundraising skills. Having board membership on your r—sum— never hurts.

For lawyers, board membership can complement traditional legal pro bono service and may be an attractive way to give back to the community for those who are not as comfortable in the courtroom.

Due to proposed stricter state and federal legislation regarding financial accountability, nonprofits are greatly in need of people with varying backgrounds, especially those with legal, accounting, or financial experience.

What should you do before joining a board? If board membership interests you, here are some questions to ask yourself before joining:
  • Am I committed to the work and the mission of the organization?

  • Will I be able to attend the scheduled board meetings?

  • Do I have the time for the commitment?

  • Are there any potential conflicts?

  • Can I make the board a philanthropic priority?

  • Do I feel comfortable with the current board?

  • Have I seen the most recent tax return or audited financial?

  • Have I reviewed the budget?

Where can you get more information about board service? The href="" target=_blank> United Way of Massachusetts Bay provides training and match-up opportunities. href="" target=_blank> BoardBank Online provides a list of organizations in need of board members and outlines what qualifications each board is seeking. In addition, the href="" target=_blank> Massachusetts Attorney General’s Website has general information and answers questions about board service and provides links to other resources.

Renee Martinez, Esq., is an associate at the law firm of Hemenway & Barnes in Boston. Her practice focuses on probate and nonprofit matters.

Reprinted with permission from the March 1, 2006, issue of Women’s Business Boston.
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