3 Myths of Serving on a Nonprofit Board

Congratulations! Someone has asked you to serve on a nonprofit board. If you’ve never been a nonprofit board member before, the prospect of nonprofit board service can be intimidating. You may face many expectations and unspoken rules in nonprofit board service, not to mention the nervousness of stepping into a new role.

If you’re worried about navigating the unknowns of this great opportunity, we’re here to help you feel confident about going through the process of becoming a board member. To start, we’re tackling the many myths of serving on a nonprofit board – some of which may be adding to your anxiety. We’ve compiled a list of three common myths of serving on a nonprofit board to help equip you to be the most informed nonprofit board member.

Here’s three untruths you may have heard about nonprofit board service:

Myth #1: Before serving, you must have a deep understanding of the nonprofit’s work.

Reality: You’re not going to know everything – and that’s OK.
There’s a lot of ins and outs to learn about a nonprofit’s work. From funding sources to the specific services the nonprofit offers, each nonprofit has an unending list of things you can learn in order to become a more informed board member. However, if you do not know everything at the beginning, you can still be an effective advocate for the nonprofit. Just start with the basics. Become familiar with the nonprofit’s history, memorize its boilerplate mission statement and be able to talk about three ways a possible donor or volunteer can contribute to its work.

Myth #2: You must be a large donor to the nonprofit.

Reality: You will donate to the nonprofit, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to serve.
One of the strongest myths of serving on a nonprofit board is the idea that board service requires a large financial commitment. Contributing financially is a common requirement of board members, but it doesn’t have to feel like a burden. Before committing to board service, talk to current board members or staff to learn how other board members in similar situations approach financial giving. By arming yourself with knowledge about the financial expectations, you will feel more confident about how you are investing your treasure.

Myth #3: You have to be an executive or high-level leader.

Reality: Nonprofits value board members with different backgrounds and levels of experience. Good nonprofits are more interested in building diverse, inclusive boards than placing only “heavy-hitters” on their boards. After all, boards that consist of individuals with a variety of skills, perspectives and community connections can offer more innovation and insight to the organization they serve.

Just because you’re new to nonprofit board service doesn’t mean that serving has to be an intimidating experience. By taking steps to better understand the specific requirements of a nonprofit board and general expectations of board service, you can better prepare to join a nonprofit board and serve your community in an exciting and challenging way.

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.