Interview with Deborah K. Holmes, Americas Director, Corporate Responsibility, EY
Board Member: Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Forum

Choosing the right board: What are the three most important considerations?

A seat on a nonprofit board is an honor, and in addition to its rewards, it has a number of important responsibilities. You’ll need to determine if you have the right combination of time, skills, and resources to make it work, and that you’ve chosen an organization whose mission is a passion of yours. As an organization leader, you’ll be making a significant time commitment; be sure that you’re prepared to make that commitment, and that the opportunity is in line with your personal and professional goals. Here are three important considerations:

Do your due diligence on the organization, including checking its reputation, the composition of the board and its process for nominating and vetting new members. Examine the relationship and communication process between the board and the organization’s staff to give you a better grasp of the board’s and your responsibilities.

Know the different board structures. Non-profits have different organizational structures, and the differences may affect your responsibilities. Some may fit with your style and preferences better than others. It is important to understand your role on the board and how your skills/background offer the most benefit.

Consider the financial implications of joining the board. Understand your cost and fundraising commitments, addressing expectations on both sides . Additionally, checking whether the organization has directors’ and officers’ insurance will help you know your personal liability.

The benefits of serving: What makes it worth it?

Non-profit board membership allows you to plunge into the leadership of an organization whose mission means something to you personally. You’ll have the chance to shape strategic vision, demonstrate initiative and accountability, make business contacts and leverage networks. While expanding your perspective, you’ll also use your leadership, presentation, and other professional skills, such as influencing and negotiating effectively, all while making a difference to something you care about.

Participating meaningfully and productively: What should you do to make the experience worthwhile for you and for the organization?

Make friends on the board—all of you share at least one interest in common. Be mindful of how this board membership aligns with your professional development goals and your long-term career, and work to ensure your involvement supports those goals. Consider serving in a support role on the board (e.g., representing the non-profit in public, helping with social media, or getting involved in fundraising).

What do you wish someone had told you when you were joining a nonprofit board?

It is important to know the time commitment and other expectations, which may include board meetings, fundraising efforts, attendance at sponsored events, volunteerism efforts and other mandatory obligations.