Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Joining a Nonprofit Board of Directors: The Why and How of It

(This is another older article that I'm posting to the blog to add it to the archives. This one was written for the January 2004 edition of "The Learning Curve" - The monthly newsletter of the Silicon Valley Chapter of ASTD (American Society for Training and Development).

Perhaps you have had some experience giving your time and efforts to local nonprofit organizations, but find something lacking in the experience. Perhaps you are looking to add a leadership component to your volunteer activities and resume. This article will introduce you to a higher level of community involvement: joining a nonprofit Board of Directors.

As a director you are responsible for setting the organization's mission and guiding it in accomplishing its vision. Legally speaking, you are also the public's eye on the organization, ensuring that it is managed in a fiscally sound manner, and that all funds are used for charitable or educational purposes.

Rewards of Service

These are serious tasks, but Board service also brings with it many rewards. You will have the opportunity to use your special knowledge - be it in marketing, finance, or event planning - in a manner that will help shape the organization for years to come. You will also meet new people who share your interests, since you signed up for the same cause, and earn a true sense of making a difference in your community.

As a Board member you will be asked to participate in some sort of fundraising activity. This scares many people away - we are all a bit nervous about having to ask our friends and family for money - but it needn't be frightening. Your participation could be through inviting people to the annual dinner, or in some other way that eases "the ask."

It's Not About Money

The most important thing to remember in the fundraising role is to concentrate on why you support the organization and not to worry about the money. I have served on the board of a local adoption and foster family agency. I love to tell people about what a great job they do with hard-to-place kids who have been through the family court system and need special assistance, but I never mention money.

While buying my house a couple of years ago, I talked enthusiastically about this organization to my realtor. A couple of months later, she told me that her company wanted to start a grant program and was asking each office to recommend a charity. We were invited to give a presentation that resulted in a $20,000 donation to my organization. This happened because I shared my enthusiasm for the cause first and let the money follow.

First Steps

To find Board opportunities, begin with asking at the organizations you are already involved with, then turn to your professional network to get other recommendations. Your local Volunteer Center may also be aware of boards that are recruiting new members. Typically, the Executive Director and the Board Chair will want to interview you. Use this as an opportunity to ask about the organization. Don't be shy here; as a Director you will be expected to ask probing questions and demonstrate your responsibility.

Assuming the interview goes well, you may have a site visit, then be invited to sit in on a Board meeting. After that, the Board will formally vote on your membership. Be aware that if the Board you are interested in only meets quarterly, there could be a lag of several months between your interview and when you are officially a member. Use this time to step up your volunteer involvement and learn more about the group.

Once on Board

The primary role of the Board of Directors, and the reason why the IRS requires nonprofits to have a Board, is governance. That means that you represent the public in making sure that the organization lives up to its mission and is deserving of tax-exempt status.

You will be reviewing annual budgets, making sure the agency has a sustainable income, and watching that it doesn't spend beyond its means. Additionally, the Board is responsible for hiring and supervising the Chief Executive, and conducting his or her annual performance review.

While these are important and necessary tasks, Board service also offers opportunity for leadership, creativity, and fun. You will be able to help with fundraising ideas and events, brainstorming ways to better serve your community, and know that your involvement is helping a cause you care about in a very real way.


If you are looking for opportunities for professional development, experience with team building and decision-making, and a way to make a long-term difference in your community, joining a nonprofit Board of Directors may be for you. Board membership is a great resume builder that also offers great personal and professional rewards.

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