Oct 21 , 2019

If you’ve thought about serving on the board of a nonprofit organization, you may just be waiting for someone to ask. The good news is that you don’t have to wait! You can find the right board to serve on, and, in the process, increase your chances for successful service and a rewarding experience. Just follow a few simple steps.

Find the right issue.

When you join a board, you’re being asked to be a steward of the organization on behalf of the community. Is this organization serving a public good? Is it using its resources well? Is it achieving its goals? Because this is a volunteer job, it’s easy to lose track of the answers to those questions, or maybe to just let the executive director or other board members answer them for you. In order to truly serve, you need to care about the mission of the organization so much that the answers to those questions drive your service. Make sure you’re a good fit for cause. Think about the things that have made a huge difference in your life or the life of the people you care about, and use that to guide your thoughts on where you might serve.

Find the right mission.

Once you’ve picked an issue that inspires you, get specific about the mission. You not only need to be an advocate for that issue that’s important to you (eg “the importance of early education”), but specifically for the method an organization uses to address that issue. Is it helping parents share a love for reading with their kids? Is it supporting grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren? Is it helping childcare centers and preschools get children ready for Kindergarten? There are likely dozens of organizations working on the issue you care about, and you’ll want to be an ambassador (and a fundraiser!) for the right one; take the time to find a mission that truly inspires you to serve.

Find the right work.

Every nonprofit organization is at a different stage in its evolution. Some of them are just getting started, and they need board members who will help them through the launch phase with a lot of advice, wisdom and adaptability. Some are in growth phase, and they need a working board that will provide a lot of operational and fundraising support until they grow enough to hire more staff. Some are in sustaining mode, where they mostly look to their board for financial oversight and strategic planning. As you search for the right organization to serve, it’s important to know what skills you have to offer and how much time you have to give to see if it’s a fit for what an organization needs.

Find the right board.

Once you’ve figured out the issue you want to address, the method that makes the most sense to you, and your potential strengths as a board member, start looking for the right board! You can ask friends, co-workers and your LinkedIn colleagues for help by sharing the kind of mission you’re looking for. You can also ask Rice University’s Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership! Send an email to cpnl@rice.edu letting us know the kind of service you seek and the time and talent you have to offer. We’ll see if we can help make a match. We are here for Houston’s professionals, connecting our nonprofit community to professional education and our business professionals with resources on how to be the best board member for organizations. View our board service offerings to see what courses may be applicable to your goals as a board member.

About the Author

Leslie Wang, MBA, is the associate director of the Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership and lead instructor for our newest certficiate program, Leadership in Action. Ms. Wang came to Houston in 2000 as a Teach for America corps member and taught fifth grade at Oates Elementary School. She later attended business school at The University of Texas at Austin, where she earned an MBA focused on nonprofit management. After graduate school, she served as a program officer at Houston Endowment, a private philanthropy in the greater Houston area. In that position, she had the privilege of learning about nonprofit organizations in Houston and analyzing the unique strengths that they bring to tackling complex social problems. In January 2016, Ms.Wang launched Honu Advisors, a small consulting practice focused on strengthening the social sector through board development, succession planning and governance reviews.

Leslie Wang