What do you need to know about being a new board member? If this is your first time serving as a Board Member for a non-profit organization, be aware that you'll be required to do some tasks that are simply non-negotiable. This includes your legal and ethical responsibilities to always act in the best interests of the organization. Being an effective Board Member, however, involves more than just an unwavering commitment to your fiduciary responsibilities; it also involves bringing -- and this is the best part -- your impeccable social skills and creative problem solving to the table.

Always act in the best interests of the organization. While all organizations are unique, regardless of the size and structure of your Board, you will generally be expected to:

  • Understand and abide by the organization’s policies and procedures
  • Assist the Board in carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities, such as reviewing the organization's operating budgets and financial statements
  • Ensure that the organization follows the law
  • Help govern the organization by establishing strategic goals and objectives
  • Prepare for and attend board and committee meetings
  • Act as a positive role model by contributing material and financial resources according to your personal circumstances
  • Recruit suitable Board nominees who can contribute to the organization’s growth and development
  • Avoid conflict of interest and maintain confidentiality at all times

Now you're on the path to success. Once you understand your basic legal and ethical responsibilities as a Board Member, there are many simple things you can do to make sure both you and your organization get the most out of your term as a Board Member. Here are a few ideas to get started:

1. Clarify. Write down why you decided to become a Board Member and how being involved with the organization fits with your own core values. Then, prepare an elevator pitch that summarizes your commitment to the organization’s mission. Practice this speech and incorporate it into your personal and professional networking activities. Talking about the organization among your peer networks sets the stage for future fundraising and donor prospecting activities.

2. Be proactive. Ask your Board Chair about training opportunities for new Board Members. Most organizations have a new Board Member orientation package that includes a job description, a copy of the constitution and by-laws, the last three years of financial statements, the last annual report, minutes from the most recent meetings and any other information that will help you understand the organization's past, present and future activities.

3. Lend your credibility to the cause. Write a clear, concise biography of who you are, what you do, your work experience and any other community work you have done. Include any accolades or awards that you’ve received. Cap your biographical statement off with a friendly line about any hobbies or sports that you enjoy. Provide a good quality head shot to go along with your bio. The Executive Director and Fund Development team will appreciate having these on hand to include with fundraising proposals and on the organization's website.

4. Show up. Special events are labor intensive for staff and volunteers. Let your organization’s team know that you appreciate their efforts by showing up to as many special events as you can. Invite colleagues, friends and prospective Board Members to these events too. But remember, don’t just stand around when you get to the event; make a point of greeting as many guests as possible.

5. Create a professional development plan. Make a plan to develop essential Board leadership skills that you may not yet have: cultivating and soliciting donations (making the ask), recruiting board members, confident public speaking, understanding financial statements and so on. Many Volunteer Resource Centers, community colleges and continuing education programs offer excellent workshops and classes designed specifically for charitable sector volunteers. When you've finished your workshop, why not make a presentation to your fellow Board Members at the next meeting? Generous knowledge sharing is a leadership trait that will certainly be appreciated by your peers.

Approach your new role as a Board Member with the same enthusiasm, professionalism and positive attitude that you bring to your day job. You'll soon discover how rewarding it is to serve your community with all the skills and talents you have to offer.