How to make your contribution to a nonprofit organization

Congratulations! You are a known leader in Greater Cleveland. Your experience is well-respected in your industry, and you have been nominated to a nonprofit’s board of directors. Now what?

Philanthropy is powered by the engagement and expertise offered by a network of committed volunteers. A nonprofit board seat is a prestigious position coupled with real responsibility.

While paid staff members focus on day-to-day program operations, a diversified board, made up of individuals from various cultural and professional backgrounds, has a significant role. Board members offer high-level governance, oversight of the nonprofit’s financials and ensure accountability to donors and the public.

Engagement

If you are courted to join a board, first consider your willingness to engage. You should research the organization’s plan to implement its mission and create community change. Board members are in a unique position to impact the nonprofit, as well as the entire community. A thorough evaluation of the mission and work will indicate if their goals are aligned with your personal philanthropic passion.

Your participation goes beyond a contribution to the nonprofit’s fundraising goal; you will be expected to devote ample time. As your personal and professional demands continue to expand, you will want to consider the board’s term limits. Terms can vary from limited one-year commitments to a possible six-year stretch.

Be sure to calculate the time investment for monthly or quarterly board meetings, chairing or partaking in committees and attending events.

Expertise

To fulfill the numerous responsibilities of governing boards, members should have varying skill sets in areas such as fundraising, marketing, legal and finance.

You were recruited to join the board because of your unique point of view on philanthropy or organizational strategy. Although board membership is a volunteer position, it should be treated as a true job where you exercise your expertise.

When high-level initiatives or partnerships emerge, many companies opt to hire external counsel to create a strategy and plan for implementation. Often with limited resources, nonprofits can’t rely heavily on consultants. However, the board of directors’ wisdom and expertise can help nonprofit teams work to solve problems, strategize campaigns and get things done.

Expectations

Prior to committing to a seat on the board, set clear, mutual expectations for your involvement and how your engagement and expertise will benefit the nonprofit. Initiate a dialogue with the organization’s board chair or executive director to discuss community impact and fundraising goals along with ethics and accountability. Many organizations require a contractual agreement for your service. If necessary, incorporate any undocumented expectations prior to signing.

Like many nonprofits, United Way of Greater Cleveland is fortunate to have a network of governance volunteers who are well-equipped to provide organizational oversight and consult on community-change, fundraising and financial strategies. The board of directors is a major driving force in helping United Way create a healthy community.

Nonprofits are only as strong as their boards. Board members who are substantially engaged exercise their expertise and have clearly-defined expectations are empowered to make tough decisions, work proactively and seek innovative solutions to the community’s most pressing needs.

Bill Kitson, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland, is committed to advancing education, income and health by engaging community members to give, advocate and volunteer.