Career

Here's What You Need to Know about Joining a Non-profit Board

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January 9, 2022

So you are excelling at work, have some extra time in your schedule, and are looking for a way to give back. What’s on the list of extracurricular possibilities now that you’re making your way in the professional world? You could join a new fitness class or launch a side hustle - but what about joining a non-profit board?

If you want to channel your professional experience into a form of service, Mary Runger - a founding board member of a Notre Dame Alumni Club and a member of several other non-profit boards - shares her wisdom on the steps to take.

But first things first - what exactly is a non-profit board? Simply put, it’s the governing or decision-making body of a non-profit organization. If you’d like to help non-profits do what they do, start here:

1. Ask Yourself These Questions

Do you have the time to make a commitment to a non-profit and take on an additional role at this time in your professional and/or personal life?

Are you excited about the mission and vision? In essence, you would become a walking, living, talking “billboard” for the organization wherever you are. Would you be proud and excited to do this?

Is the leader of the organization self-serving or selfless? Do they recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and know how to delegate? Do you have a sense of their motivation? What is the source of their inspiration and energy? Remember that you would be working for and with this person.

Would you enjoy working with the other board members? Do they fulfill their responsibilities as board members and not only show up, but also come to the table with a collaborative and creative mindset? 

Are there any practices of the organization with which you do not agree? Do you have difficulty imagining yourself being able to support any of these practices?

2. Assess Your Leadership Skills

Mary Runger outlined the following skills as crucial to non-profit board membership: 

  • Willingness to listen
  • Project Management
  • Perseverance

Willingness to Listen

“God had intentionality in creating us with two ears and one mouth,” Mary said, “it would seem to me that God is asking us to listen twice as much as we speak. I believe this to be the appropriate ratio as to the manner in which one should participate on a non-profit board.”

We can do this by:

  • Learning as much as possible about the history, mission, and vision of the organization.
  • Taking the time to discern which leadership, interpersonal, and professional skills are best suited to work with the other members of the board.

Project Management: Innovative, Creative, and Action-oriented

Mary highlighted the importance of being able to commit to taking responsibility for developing project ideas and/or creating solutions for the organization’s needs and goals. In doing so, board members can also help others experience success in their respective roles. In this way, it is most important to have a collaborative spirit that inspires and, at the same time, mentors fellow board members working towards the good of the organization’s mission. 

Perseverance

“I believe half the battle in achieving excellence as a whole is to show up and aspire to create a culture of enthusiastic and energetic teamwork.” Mary said that there will always be challenges and misfires along the way, but that staying dedicated to putting one foot in front of the other and persevering with a problem-solving mindset will eventually get the job done. “A good leader trusts the process, adapts and makes changes along the way, and tries to stay focused in accomplishing the tasks at hand.”

3. Prepare for Your Search

When you’re ready to search for non-profit board positions, consider checking job websites such as LinkedIn and reaching out to local organizations with missions aligned with your values.  As Mary points out, some of these positions might arise organically as organization leaders may contact you directly. To attract these types of opportunities, volunteer for causes dear to you and refine your leadership skills.

When the right position comes along, Mary reminds us that the selfless nature of the non-profit work you commit to will help you do good work to serve others.

Mary Runger is President of St. Margaret Mary’s Parish Council and is on the Advisory Board of Andean Health & Development as well as the Women’s Care Center - LaGrange/Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Notre Dame and a Master’s of Leadership in Family Ministry from Dominican University. In her spare time, Mary enjoys traveling, gardening, and simply being outside enjoying God’s creation.

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