Tap into Your Strengths, Serve on a Board and Spread the Benefits

There is a nonprofit board for you. No matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’ve done, or what you care about, you can strengthen a nonprofit organization, fortify your community and be better for the experience.  Entertainer and social activist Dick Gregory once said, “One of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people.”  That’s at the heart of involvement with a nonprofit board.  If you want to make a meaningful impact on your community, and experience some joy in the process, we encourage you to consider board service.

At first glance, stepping up to serve on a nonprofit board may appear daunting.  Understanding the basics is an important first step.

Simply put, a board of directors is a group of volunteers who work to enhance a nonprofit’s mission and strengthen its programs and services. Nonprofits need dedicated, thoughtful and passionate people to lend their skills, perspectives and ideas.   Intrigued?  Consider the following:

First – Get past the misperceptions.  You don’t need deep pockets or decades of career experience.  You don’t have to have a long history with the organization, be a renowned expert in the subject, or an adept fundraiser.  You do have to bring passion and an eagerness to learn. You need to think strategically and participate in decision-making that will enhance the organization.

Second – If you’re muttering, “I haven’t done enough; why would they want me,” you’re selling yourself short.  Boards thrive on new energy and fresh perspectives.  Every experience you’ve had comes with you and can be invigorating and much-needed.  You’ll find that your particular skills and experience translate well to nonprofit board involvement.  You don’t have to have a network a mile long to bring productive connections.

Third – Board service offers an opportunity to pursue endeavors that interest you but are outside the parameters of your day job.  When you apply your talents, skills and interests in new ways or perhaps for the first time (or first time in a long time), you stretch yourself in new directions and can extend yourself further than you thought you could go.

Lastly – You get as much as you give.  Really.  You quickly discover that your expertise and instincts add value.  That realization can benefit your career and any number of pursuits, now and in the future.  You’ll meet people of varied backgrounds and know-how and work with them around the board table and, at times, beyond.  The benefits extend to the board for sure, but also to you.

Think about what kind of organization excites you.  No matter your interests, there’s a board for you.  A large percentage of Connecticut’s 12,000 charitable nonprofits call the Greater Hartford region home.  Their missions run the gamut: arts and culture, human services, transportation, youth – the list is lengthy and varied.

Some nonprofits have an established pedigree; some are just getting off the ground.  Some bear recognizable national names; others are smaller and lesser known.  Some are hyper-local, focusing on a single town or neighborhood; others work throughout the region, intertwined in the fabric of multiple communities.

If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves to pitch in – or even if you’re only 85 percent convinced you’re ready – go for it.  Along the way, you’ll have the chance to hone your skills, deepen your leadership experience, expand your network, and improve your proficiency in goal-setting and oversight.  You’ll help strengthen programs, develop partnerships or raise funds, all the while applying these experiences to your career as well as your community.  And if Dick Gregory was right, you’ll have lots to smile about!

With so many extraordinary organizations in the region, opportunities are truly low hanging fruit.  There are so many attractive choices well within your grasp – you need only reach out and pluck the one that’s to your liking.

Mae Ryan Maloney is Program Director of Leaders on Board, Leadership Greater Hartford’s program that trains and helps place volunteers on area nonprofit boards of directors.  Bernard Kavaler is managing principal of Express Strategies, a public relations consulting firm.  His nonprofit board service includes Leadership Greater Hartford.

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