Non-Profit Board Participation and Business Owners

board of directors meeting photo

Nonprofit board of directors provide many opportunities for business owners.

Non-profit board participation is something that many corporate climbers do. If you look at the roster of board members of your local United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cancer Society, etc., you will notice the names of various directors and vice presidents of Fortune 1000 corporations with a local presence. One reason is these corporations encourage participation as a means of building and/or solidifying community relationships.

Another reason is that many of these charitable organizations have large fundraising commitments for their board of directors, i.e., $25,000 or more each, and the corporations have the funds to pay this commitment. However, non-profit board participation is not exclusively for corporate senior management. Small business owners can participate and reap similar benefits as their corporate counterparts.

Why Participate on Non-Profit Boards?

A few years ago a couple of people recommended that I step up my involvement in non-profits via board participation. I was not ready. I had too much going on and too little time to dedicate. I wanted whatever time I did spend volunteering to help the recipients directly. So I tutored, mentored, and occasionally spoke at churches and non-profit conferences. A few years ago I finally had the time…and the inclination. Why did these people recommend participating on boards and why do I recommend it to you as a small or medium-sized business owner?

Give Back

First, I believe it is important to give back to the communities in which you and your company(ies) operate. Giving back helps to balance the overall mission of your company and deepens your company’s commitment to engaging with its customers and employees.

Cartoon of board of directors

Most boards require active involvement, which heightens the participation benefits.

Exposure to New Ideas

Second, board participation affords the opportunity to interact with high career  individuals (other owners, VPs, SVPs, executive directors, C-suite level) who have backgrounds and perspectives different from your own. This difference in perspective can help you view your company’s issues in a different light and that alone can be very valuable.

Strengthen Your Network

Third, assuming the board has good synergy, you build a sense of team and strengthen your network. That network can assist you as you grow your business organically, offer new products or services, or seek out acquisitions. You never know who may be able to make an introduction into an account you would like to have or connect you to a prospective partner.

Grow as a Leader

Finally, non-profit board participation can help you grow as a leader. As an owner and typically, the CEO and/or president, especially if you are the sole owner, you may not be as adept at working as part of a team of peers as you once were (assuming you were an employee at some time previously). Participating on a board will enhance your team skills. Participation will also increase your knowledge of a number of functions: marketing, finance, legal, and employee relations. All these are directly relevant to running your business.

Puzzle pieces on a table

Finding the right fit is akin to finding the right piece for a puzzle.

Finding the Right Non-Profit Board

If you decide you would like to sit on a non-profit board, seek out those that address causes you have a passion for or provide the types of services you are really interested in. For example, if you love sports, you would be bored sitting on a homeless shelter board but participating on a pop warner or little league board would be a good fit.

Be aware that most, if not all, non-profits have a minimum donation requirement for and of the directors on their boards. Sometimes that amount is $500 or $1,000 for smaller non-profits. For large non-profits such as hospital boards or the United Way, the minimum donation requirement may be $25,000 or higher. (As previously mentioned, this is why you often see VPs of large corporations as the primary members of these boards. The corporation, not the VP, makes the donation.)

Because there are literally thousands of non-profits in any large metropolitan area, if you are not sure where to start, begin with United Way. United Way provides funding to tens of thousands of non-profits nationwide. Your local chapter will have a list of non-profits in your area that fit your criteria.