How to Be an Excellent First-Time Board Member

There’s a first time for everything, including becoming a board member for a nonprofit. Being asked to serve on a board can be a great opportunity and a rewarding experience. Nonprofit board members are the bridge between a tax-exempt charity and the community.

Nonprofit board members are essential in ensuring the sustainability and success of important community organizations. If you’re new to a board, there are some things you can do to help ensure you begin your tenure on a thoughtful and positive note:

  1. Request a meeting with the CEO: If you haven’t had a one-on-one meeting with the CEO, ask to set up a meeting once you’re on the board. Use this time to develop a relationship with the executive. Consider this session also as an opportunity to discuss what the CEO sees as his or her vision for the organization. And as a board member, ask the CEO what he or she sees as challenges and opportunities for the board and its members to help support the vision.
  2. Understand your governance responsibilities: The most important job any trustee has individually and collectively is ensuring good board governance. Many directors do not thoroughly understand their roles and responsibilities. If your board does not do an annual meeting that trains and informs its members, take it upon yourself to learn what your role and responsibilities. You can learn a lot about board governance with BoardSource.
  3. Fundraising is your priority: Most organizations have to deal with the fact that many (or most) people don’t like to raise money. It’s not uncommon to speak to prospective trustees and hear from them that they’ll do anything but not raise funds. Wrong. Fundraising is a board priority and one of the most important jobs of each director. If you don’t like raising money yourself, ask the CEO or chief fundraiser to work with you and develop a plan for approaching prospects.
  4. Set your goals: Well-oiled boards will have committees, so there’s a division of labor. Decide what skills you can bring and set some goals for yourself. Then speak with the board chair and make it a point to serve on one or two committees so you can achieve those objectives. Consider this an opportunity for you to bring energy, collaboration and fresh ideas to the committees you join.
  5. Know the team, but remain strategic: As a board member, you should get to know the organization’s management team. However, one of the most important things to remember is that as a trustee, your role is not to micro-manage. Ask strategic questions of management, but don’t get into the day-to-day. If you serve on a committee, request a meeting with the manager responsible for that area within the organization. And, as with the CEO, ask questions to understand how the department is addressing the vision for the organization. Learn about the challenges and opportunities.

Board membership is an excellent opportunity to give back to the community and leverage your expertise and knowledge. If you’re new to serving as a trustee, learn as much as you can about how to do it successfully so you can become one of the leaders.