Serving as a nonprofit board member can be a challenging but rewarding experience. With hundreds of nonprofit boards to join in Charlotte, it’s helpful to know the nuts and bolts of what being part of a nonprofit board really means.


Young Leaders, a United Way of Central Carolinas engagement group for young professionals, hosted the first session of a two-part nonprofit board training in May at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus in Charlotte. The second session is scheduled for July 19.


Facilitated by The Lee Institute and sponsored by Duke Energy, the training sessions teach participants about the roles and responsibilities of board volunteers and shed light on how to serve more effectively as a board member.


“The upper limit of a nonprofit’s success is the quality of its board,” says Kate Flynn, director of The Lee Institute.


Here are five ways to be a better nonprofit board member as discussed by Flynn:


1– Find your perfect fit

Board members bring time, talent, and connections to the table and should find a board that combines their passion and personal skills, and that has professional benefit.


Flynn says when considering nonprofit boards to serve on, find those that will bring a feeling of fulfillment in the work being done.


“Where are you going to be excited to go at 5 p.m. on a Thursday? For me, that’s the screen I use to make the decision,” she says. “And hopefully that can lead you to somewhere that’s going to be a great fit for you.”


2– Foster good board culture

When it comes to nonprofit boards, Flynn believes the culture should be more like a potluck dinner and less like dining at an upscale restaurant. In other words, every board member should bring something to the table and have skin in the game.


Strong boards are built when members participate effectively, have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and feel informed about the nonprofit, Flynn says.


“As a board member, think about how you’re contributing to the culture,” she says.


3 – Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A good board involves well-designed meetings with expectations of safe and curious conversations where members are encouraged to ask questions, Flynn says.


This might include asking the board how something fits with the nonprofit’s mission, discussing processes behind board decisions, and talking about how these decisions will affect people. The bottom line is to be curious, Flynn says.


“No matter if it’s your first day or first board meeting, you need to be ready to call the question,” she says.


4 – Engage in big-picture thinking

Big-picture thinking is a core responsibility of nonprofit boards. Members should be doing big-picture thinking more routinely outside of board retreats, Flynn says.


This type of thinking comes into play for topics like increasing affordable housing units in Charlotte to meet the need, or closing the gap in suspension rates between students of different races, she says.


“This (thinking) is a form of leadership by saying, ‘I am going to be a leader by giving myself space and time to step away, reflect, and then take intentional action when I step back in,’” Flynn says.


5 – Know your donors

Donors want to feel like they are part of an organization’s narrative, Flynn says. They want to have a personal connection to the mission or cause and feel capable of positive community change.


While it’s important to attract new donors, Flynn advises nonprofit boards not to forget about existing donors. She suggests getting to know the passions of returning donors.


“Love the donors you already have and grow them into super donors,” she says.


Miss the first board training? Join us at the second session for a quick recap and a deeper dive into specific nonprofit board topics like fundraising and board-executive director relationships.


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