Board Service Helps Your Community and Your Career

If there’s one way to satisfy your inner volunteer and develop your professional experience, it’s serving on a board of directors for a nonprofit organization—and it’s not as difficult as you might think.

By Sally Benford

business-table-meeting-vector-id870196300.jpgPeople helping people is a well-known mantra of nonprofit service organizations and there’s no better way to get involved than through board service. It’s a labor of love that can make an impact in your community, as well as a cause you care about. Board service can be both personally and professionally rewarding—it will help expand your perspective. Learning about how boards work and the ways they can shape the issues that are important to you is useful and interesting.

According to Karen Fisher, Director for Enrollment and Financial Aid at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, serving as a volunteer board member is great way to build your knowledge by seeing boards in action. Fisher also holds a J.D. and a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She says that board experience with any organization will certainly offer insight about how the board at your school works. “It’s a good way to cultivate leadership skills in the life cycle of an admission career, and it also offers an opportunity to continue your own lifelong learning,” Fisher says.

So how do you go about finding the right opportunity to serve? Fisher has some suggestions. She says that, most importantly, you should follow your interests and passion. Identify your interests to determine organizations that are a good fit.

“There’s something out there for everyone—technology, the environment, arts, human services, education, health care. You’ll feel a pull toward organizations that inspire youand you’ll want to commit your time to serve,” says Fisher.

She suggests that the best course of action is to volunteer your time with an organization first, to make sure it’s a good fit and to gain an understanding of the mission and the work. When you’re well matched with an organization, you can then move into a board member role.

You’ll also need to think about the logistics and responsibilities of serving on a board. First, do you have the time in your schedule to commit to the organization? Do you enjoy discussing policy and developing strategies? Are you interested in financial management, governance and marketing? Are you prepared to help the organization raise funds? Can you represent the organization in your community?

Fisher says that serving on a board will help you understand how organizations work: The board creates the vision and strategy, the staff carries it out, and the volunteers assist in the work of the nonprofit. She adds that Admission and Enrollment professionals have developed a special skillset that lends itself well to board service.

“We are able to present information and ideas to other people due to our experience giving tours. We know how to interact on a personal level when we interview students and speak with families. And we know how to look at data and make data-driven decisions. All of these skills help development admission professionals as leaders and are well-suited to board service,” she says.

Additionally, Fisher believes that board service can help admission and enrollment professionals understand their own schools better. She explains that as a staff member, you may be invited to present to the school’s board, or you may be asked to serve on school committees, such as finance, enrollment or diversity. Through your board experience, you’ll understand the ins and outs of how boards work, which will help your school and strengthen your knowledge.

Ultimately, the reason for serving nonprofits in any capacity is to make a difference in the community. Joining an organization you’re passionate about can be some of the most rewarding work you do. And gaining some professional knowledge along the way can be a boon to your career.