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Finding the Right Fit for Non-Profit Board Service

— Maggie Place, Chair, Strategic Operations Committee (President-Elect, Executive Committee)

It’s a little bit what you know, and it’s a little bit who you know. I believe, though, that finding the right fit for professional opportunities is more about how you share what you know with who you know.

In January, Councilmember Isaiah Thomas joined our Spruce Council meeting to share how he became connected in the Philadelphia community and found the ways in which he could contribute the most to his city. His comments on board service prompted me to think about how board service is not only about finding an organization whose mission aligns with your personal values. Service is also about matching your skills and experience with the needs of the board.

In high school, I was tapped to be a member of the Berks County Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), a grantmaking body made up of students from each high school in our county. Throughout the year, we came together monthly to decide on an appropriate theme for the year, promote our grant opportunities, review the submissions, and ultimately award around $15,000 each year. In my time on the committee, we launched a campaign to create an endowed fund, and I learned highly valuable lessons about donor engagement and gift solicitation. 

My involvement in that group in high school sparked a long-term interest and investment in youth philanthropy. In college, I brought my experience with fundraising to our campus-wide community service initiative by gathering in-kind donations and garnering the financial support of campus  and community members. Each year, I helped to organize events that centered around a Habitat for Humanity build but also incorporated long-term interventions in low-income neighborhoods such as tutoring and mentoring. 

Over a decade later, I have served on three more non-profit boards with three different missions. What each of them had in common was that they were seeking the skills and experiences I possessed, and the opportunities they provided to me helped me grow as a professional. There was a mutual benefit, and it required intentional networking and planning to find the right fit in each case. 

If you are considering joining a non-profit board for the first time, or if you’re considering where you can make your best contribution, I encourage you to answer the following two questions:

What do you hope to get out of serving on a board? You’ll want to consider what skills you’d like to develop and what experiences you’d like to have that will complement your professional life. If you work in a more concrete field like technology or finance and are feeling like you need a creative outlet, consider joining a board on which you can work on event-based projects or innovative programming. If you fundraise as your “day job”, perhaps you want to spend more time building strategic planning and leadership skills through board service. For folks who are already busy, board service can feel like just one more thing to add to our plates. Be sure that you’re putting yourself in a position to get as much out of your board service as you’re putting into the organization. 

What will a non-profit board get from you? What skills and experiences do you already have that can be applied to board service? Do you have deep knowledge of communication strategies and social media? Can you help a non-profit board to plan engaging events and grow their reach? Do you have a knack for strategic planning and intentional decision-making? 

Once you are able to answer those two questions, you will be ready to have more authentic conversations about potential board service opportunities. You will be better prepared to ask pointed questions about what types of roles organizations are looking to fill. Then, you can be open with that organization about what skills you have to contribute and at what capacity. Serving on a non-profit board can be an incredibly rewarding experience if you begin with this honest assessment of your needs and the organization’s needs. 

If you are interested in joining the Spruce Foundation board or our Spruce Council, fill out our interest form or attend an event in the near future!