Board service is a compelling way to build a reputation, but too few women are currently engaged on boards of directors, a lost opportunity for both professional females and for organizations in need of new talent. Even in the U.S., a bellwether in board diversity, women comprise just 13% of all corporate and nonprofit board directors, according to The International Alliance for Women.
TIAW, along with other national women’s advocacy organizations, have integrated more board training into their programming over the past decade and have pushed board service as a source for volunteer enrichment and career development. For example, since its founding in 2000, the Atlanta Women’s Foundation’s Women on Board Program has trained about 1,500 women for board work, placing 700 of them with Metro Atlanta nonprofits.
Historically, most boards have been full of a community’s power brokers and philanthropists, men and women who are comfortable asking for money and supporting high-profile causes. But nonprofits have exploded in recent years and, as more have emerged, so has the need for additional board talent.
Throughout the state, the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations is helping nonprofits broaden their board composition and improve how they engage board members. LANO Development Director Kellie Chavez Greene says one of the biggest mistakes organizations make is not setting clear expectations. Clear job descriptions and well-defined roles help nonprofits and volunteer board members get the most out of the relationship.
“Nonprofit organizations rely on board members for fundraising, policy-making, monitoring financials and filling the gaps in the organization’s management,” Greene says. “In turn, board members build valuable skills that are transferable to their professional life. Service on boards also provides great networking and relationship-building opportunities.”
Ideally, boards should reflect the composition of the communities they represent, a characteristic that can give them a competitive advantage.
“There is a push in the nonprofit sector to diversify membership on boards of directors to include individuals from diverse cultures and races, women and young people,” Greene says. “Foundations locally and across the country are scrutinizing board rosters of prospective grantees to measure the organization’s commitment to diversity. Those organizations with diverse boards of directors are better positioned for funding from these foundations.”
While board work can look great on a resume, it’s still work and, like any job, should be taken seriously. A failing of board members—as well as the nonprofits that recruit them—is to enter into an ill-defined relationship, Greene says. Nonprofits need to provide job descriptions, an annual calendar of events and benchmarks for success.
The usual expectation, Greene says, is that board members will provide their “time, talent and treasure.”
Time means faithfully attending meetings and special events, and volunteering for special assignments or on committees. Talent means using what lies in your wheelhouse, including marketing, financial management or legal skills, to strengthen the organization.
And treasure means money.
“It is an expectation that board members make a financial contribution to the organization that they serve on,” Greene says. “At a minimum, board members should purchase special event tickets and assist the organization in its fund development efforts.”
That shouldn’t scare off prospective talent, even now, as the country faces recession. According to the national nonprofit Board Source, which helps nonprofits develop boards of directors, philanthropic giving still grew .8% during economic slowdowns from 1967-2007. For some causes, downturns heighten an organization’s ability to market.
Greene says women interested in board service should consider the issues that move them, and then find organizations engaged in the cause. It’s fine to approach a nonprofit to throw your hat into the ring as a possible nominee, Greene says. But don’t take the position lightly. As a board member you will have fiduciary responsibility over the organization, so look for well-run outfits that offer directors and officers insurance policies, job descriptions and a plan for the future.