While still in college, I joined my first Board of Directors – the American Red Cross of Montana. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for (my boss asked me to join him on the board because they needed more members), but stayed for four years. (I think I was afraid my boss would be mad if I left.) Through no fault of the Red Cross, I didn’t get much out of it.
Then in 2008, I came aboard the Board of Directors at the Sweet Pea Festival, a three-day arts festival held in Bozeman, Montana, which I have been a part of since then (the header image is of the Sweet Pea board; I'm on the right). It was a completely different experience and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of reward as well.
5 Reasons Why All Marketers Should Join a Non-Profit Board of Directors
It’s a chance to expand your skills.
While you lend your marketing expertise to the board, being on a Board of Directors will give you the opportunity to learn new things such as fiscal management, hiring and interview considerations, and process implementation strategies.
It gives you a broader view from which to base your marketing.
I firmly believe that areas of our lives bleed into other areas and that that fact makes us whole, integrated people. For example, a few summers ago I was playing Draw Something on my iPhone every day. At one point, I stopped and thought to myself – what have I learned from this game that applies marketing? (The biggest insight was to always give context!) Participating on a non-profit Board of Directors will give you ideas, lessons, and applications that you can use in your marketing if you let the cross-over happen.
It’s a place to meet new, interesting people.
I work from home, so getting out and seeing people is important for my sanity. However, even while working in an office, it was so great to meet people outside of work who were in all walks of life and doing so many diverse things. While “networking” isn’t exactly the point of a Board of Directors, it happens naturally. And who knows – maybe those connections will come in handy later.
Volunteering makes you happier!
According to an article published in BMC Public Health, “volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers. In addition, volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being” (Health Day).
Bonus: It helps round out your resume.
Being on a non-profit Board of Directors shows potential employers that you are invested in your community and have a breadth of experience and perspective to bring to the table.
Okay, you’re sold. Now what?
How Do You Find a Board of Directors to Join?
Non-profits are starved for volunteers, and Board of Directors are no different. In Bozeman, Montana (a fairly small city of 40,000) where I live, we have more than 600 non-profit organizations. Multiply that by 10 Board members per organization roughly, and you’re looking at 6,000 people annually!
What are you passionate about? Do you have a hobby that you’d like to spend more time doing? Is there a community event or services you really dig in your town? A quick Google search will reveal all sorts of options of non-profits in your town. Create a list of 2-3 that you are really excited about.
Then call them up or shoot them an email!! Some non-profits might have a full Board of Directors already (ask if there is a waiting list), some might have a formal application process (which usually involves at least sending in your resume and a phone interview), and some might say, “When can you start?”
But don’t just jump in cold. Before making a formal commitment, be sure to ask a few questions to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
Things To Ask Before Joining a Non-Profit Board of Directors
- What type of Board does the group have? There is a difference between a working board (you have to do 'x') and an oversight board (you listen to reports and make sure everything is going well). Determine which you’d like to do and make sure the position aligns with your expectations.
- What is the position responsible for? Are you a general Board member or are you responsible for helping with a fundraising event, serving on the Finance Committee, or taking notes at the meeting? Ask to see a Job Description if they have one.
- How long are terms (e.g. the length of commitment)? Make sure that length of time works for you.
- How formal are the meetings? Sweet Pea Festival loosely uses parliamentary procedure but you get used to it fairly quickly in terms of who can talk when and how voting happens.
- How big is the Board? This number directly impacts its ability to function smoothly. Most people agree that between 8-14 is a good range.
- How organized is the group? Ask to see any Board materials/guidelines and the By-Laws before you sign up.
- How often are the Board meetings? Are you expected to attend any other meetings? Are there any other time investments you need to know about?
- Is a monetary donation required? Some non-profits require their Board of Directors to make a donation yearly.
- Do you have a past Board member and current Board member that I could speak with? If you can, chat with both a past and current Board member to get a feel for what the organization is like, what the Board is like, what the meetings are like, and whether or not it would be a good fit for your personality and skills.
- Can I sit in on a board meeting as an observer prior to joining? This will give you a good idea of whether you like the vibe of the group.
Participating on a non-profit Board of Directors is a great way to broaden your marketing perspective, meet new people, learn new skills, increase your well-being, and frost your resume. Find one to join today!