How to serve on a nonprofit board.

July 2009

When Gray G. Davis relocated to Florida in 2007, he was attracted to the Uncommon Friends Foundation. The organization's mission mirrored many of his own beliefs about the need to prepare young people for leadership positions and the importance of ethical behavior in the work world. His passion for the cause and his volunteer involvement led to an invitation to serve on the group's board of directors.

The chief operating officer for Oswald Trippe and Company Inc., one of southwest Florida's largest independent insurance agencies, Davis has served on numerous boards throughout his career. Board membership, Davis says, helps one forge new relationships and strengthen local communities. Here, he shares tips on how to assume a leadership role in your favorite organization—along with some of the unanticipated expectations that may accompany board membership.

Show an Interest. Volunteer your time, attend an event, or make a monetary contribution. Until you make yourself known and make some kind of commitment, the organization may not be aware of your willingness to support its efforts. Interest goes beyond wearing a lapel pin. Those days are long gone. You must take an active role in the organization.

Give Yourself the Time. You need to have the flexibility in your schedule and be sure you can make meetings during the business day and after work. Uncommon Friends holds monthly general board meetings, hosts one to two special events each year, and holds a variety of committee meetings. The organization recently moved its headquarters to a historic building and board members were asked to attend a city hearing to show their support. Those kinds of requests always come up, and you must be able and ready to participate.

Make Connections. Who do you know, and how can you bring those connections to bear? Part of my job is to build relationships in the community. As I make professional contacts, I often have an opportunity to talk about Uncommon Friends. As a board member, you may be expected to make introductions or use personal contacts on behalf of the organization. When a national television anchor participated in our speaker series, he requested that Uncommon Friends fly him to the event in a specific type of airplane. Two of our board members had the right contacts, which meant that we could accommodate the speaker's requests. A nonprofit depends on those kinds of connections.

Offer All Types of Support. Board members are often expected to financially support an organization to the best of their abilities, no matter their personal financial situations. Generally speaking, you need to write a check or know individuals who can assist the organization by purchasing tickets, attending events, or making a financial commitment. Other types of support can be just as helpful. One of the founders of Uncommon Friends was Henry Ford, and my family happens to know the Ford family. In addition to my financial support, the leadership is aware that I may have access to memorabilia that has great meaning and historical value for the organization.

Take a Larger Role. Typically board members move through a process that takes them from interest to volunteer to board member to committee member to board chair. Along the way, you learn about the organization from top to bottom. As your reputation for service to the community grows, you will find that other groups will approach you about board membership. —Nancy Grund
 
Share ideas, network with peers, and stay up to date on the latest management topics—including a blog post from Gray G. Davis—on Think+Up .