Volunteering your time & skills to support a non-profit organization is a wonderful thing to do.
You help the organization, you help their beneficiaries, and your community… But one thing that is discussed less often, is this.
Volunteering for a non-profit is immensely valuable for you as a person and you benefit a ton from your time spent doing so.
Even regardless of social responsibility, it makes sense for your career & in business to spend time each month on supporting a nonprofit board. In this article I’ll run through some reasons why that is the case, with some examples from my personal experience and where I’ve benefited.
First off, let’s talk about board diversity. Boards definitely lack diversity. According to Bourdsource.org, 80% of board members are white, and 84% of board members are over 40. Notably, they do tend to have an even split in terms of gender though, with 48% of board members being women.
This means that if you’re reading this as a younger person (even more so if you’re part of a minority group), then you have something to offer. You have new ways of thinking, you most likely have more social media and general digital knowhow than ‘average’ nonprofit board members, and you’re a fresh pair of eyes to challenge the way things are done.
To clear up any concerns and misconceptions about joining a non-profit board:
You do not have to be wealthy and influential. While this certainly helps, nonprofits (particularly smaller ones) often struggle to recruit and retain passionate & skilled individuals to support the board. If you want to help and you have relevant skills to offer, they’ll love to have you.
You do not need to know the organization inside out. If this really were the case, it’d be impossible to recruit board members! There’s an awful lot of information you’ll pick up over time about various project, operations & stakeholders. To start with, though, just make sure you know the mission statement and can articulate what the organisation does, and how you can help.
These are the 3 ways I’ve personally benefited from joining a nonprofit board, and how you can too.
1. You expand your network & meet new people.
Even though it’s not a requirement, like I mentioned above, you’ll find that many board members are business owners or people with influence in business. Plus those who aren’t, will still have a huge amount of wisdom and value to offer you when you get to know them.
You’ll enter into a whole new circle of people which will always have benefits in networking; it just so happens that these circles are generally pretty influential / useful contacts!
For me personally:
My web design & marketing agency has gained numerous work contracts from either people directly involved in the charities I support or their network.
I have also employed somebody who volunteers at a youth charity where I am a trustee. People who volunteer their spare time to support charities, I dare say are more likely to have the qualities you are looking for as an employer.
I’ve gained publicity for other projects, such as this one I co-founded / organized, aimed at feeding & clothing the homeless around Christmas. A connection through nonprofit work got us an interview on a popular local radio channel which led to extra volunteers at the event, and more donations.
2. You develop your skill-set.
Whether you’re a student, a business owner, an employee, or seeking work – I guarantee you will develop your skills tremendously while helping to run a non-profit. There are new stakeholder groups to communicate with and manage (volunteers, staff, funders, beneficiaries), new legal compliance to adhere to, and much more.
I became a charity trustee as an undergraduate student while studying at Teesside University through their Volunteers program. Here’s a few general things I learned and skills I developed:
Meetings. That’s right, meetings. At that point in my career & life, I had very little experience of formal regular meetings. I learned how to present myself to my co-trustees, and gained the confidence to share my ideas and perspectives.
Leadership. As above, there are new stakeholder groups to consider. Volunteer staff members, the local council, our funders – these relationships all require different approaches to communicate with and manage. That experience has been invaluable in business.
Writing grant applications. It may not be the first thing you’d expect, but for me, the value here was an improvement in my sales skills. To persuade a funder, you have to articulate how your objectives are aligned, strategize, & plan how those objectives will be achieved if the project moves forward. Definitely some similarity there to B2B sales!
3. You enhance your resume/CV to impress employers.
One more statistic for you: only around 2% of nonprofit board members are under 30. If you are under 30, how’s that for a way to stand out? Incredible!
At a time when skilled job vacancies are as competitive as ever, it’s super important to be unique. Being a nonprofit board member makes you stand out in terms of both how your values & personality align with an organization’s culture, and in terms of professional skills as mentioned above.
Also, you’ll find other board members & connections made will make for great referees. This can be super useful for obvious reasons, particularly if you have little previous employment (or none at all!).
You should be in it for the right reasons.
With all that being said, I will add the caveat that you shouldn’t join a nonprofit board for reasons that are only self-interested. I recommend finding a charity that has a mission & objectives that you care about. That way, you’ll find it much easier to give 100%, and it won’t feel like a chore to attend board meetings & do any bits of work in between.
Also, remember that just because vacancies are not advertised, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Board members are volunteers & won’t always be on top of things like recruitment due to time restraints. Reach out, ask if they are currently accepting new trustees, explain what you can bring to the board, and get started!
Some websites that may be useful in searching for opportunities: