How to Be a Great Nonprofit Board Member

It takes time to learn how to be a great nonprofit board member. From anticipating the financial needs of a nonprofit to doing a deep dive into its strategic growth, board members are expected to bring an array of strengths to the table. We interviewed four nonprofit leaders in the St. Louis region to learn what they hope for in a nonprofit board member.

Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to successfully serve on a nonprofit board:

What do you think makes a great nonprofit board member?

“A great board member is someone with a lot of brains, buddies and bucks (their own or ones they can access) who will consistently show up, speak up and put up in support of the cause. For Wyman, a great board member is one who has genuine passion for the youth served by our mission as well as a personal commitment to contribute by sharing their skills, talents and insights at meetings; matching the level of their generosity to the level of their stated passion; and, reaching out to engage their personal and professional networks in the cause.”
– Dave Hilliard, CEO of Wyman Center

“It’s simple: a passion for and commitment to the organization.”
– Marie-Hélène Bernard, President of the St. Louis Symphony

“Great nonprofit board members have the faith and fervor that their organization’s mission is the ‘answer.’
– Stan Shoun, President of Ranken

“The characteristics of a great board member are consistent whether we talk about nonprofits or for profits. The job of the board is to ensure that there is a solid governance structure in place to achieve the mission. Their job is also to hire a CEO and support his or her team in achieving the business objectives. Great board members bring their diverse skill sets and leverage those skills freely in helping the organization achieve goals. In the nonprofit sector, it also helps if you have compassion and commitment to changing lives.”
– Orvin Kimbrough, President of United Way of Greater St. Louis

What is the top quality you believe engaged board members possess?

“At Wyman, the board’s primary focus is on visioning and resourcing the future they want to achieve for our young people and the community. Since our young people live in complex and ever-changing environments and our nonprofit business ecosystem is incredibly dynamic, board members must be nimble and bring an entrepreneurial mindset to their service.”
– Dave Hilliard, CEO of Wyman Center

“The ability to influence. It’s not enough that an individual board member believes he or she is the answer – they must convince those around him or her of the same vision, so that unity may convey that answer to the masses.”
– Stan Shoun, Ranken

“Be intellectually curious about the work and how to improve the work. Oftentimes, nonprofits have board members who don’t have experience leading a nonprofit organization. There is a significant amount of upside and some challenges. The upside is you get the benefit of different industry best practices and the downside is if they are not engaged, they will struggle to make sense out of this new industry that isn’t driven by maximizing profit.”
– Orvin Kimbrough, United Way of Greater St. Louis

We would love to hear your thoughts. Whether you’re just considering board service or are ready to jump in headfirst, what qualities do you hope to bring to a nonprofit board?

guide to nonprofit board service

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