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Updated: September 25, 2023 How To

How to join a board and make an impact at a nonprofit

Much like the growing number of employers seeking out employees to fill their ranks, so too are local nonprofits seeking board members to fill their crucial roles.

For more than 16 years, I’ve reported to a board of directors, and leading up to that, I was a board member of several boards (and still am to this day). This lived experience has helped me gain perspective on team dynamics and also witness the best and worst of board member behavior. Recently, four separate nonprofit leaders and colleagues have reached out to me to pick my brain, and eventually, each conversation led to an example of struggling to retain board members, train current board members, or even just getting board members to engage.

Cory King

Having strong nonprofits and community organizations is critical to the overall success and growth of any community. Our Bath-Brunswick region is loaded with organizations doing mission-driven work that helps the disadvantaged, creates opportunities for citizens, supports our seniors, aids our pets, assists with health and well-being, and so much more. Yet noticeably, we’re seeing gaps in board participation across the board, pun intended.

It cannot be understated what an incredible leadership opportunity board seats can be for employees of any business, and there are several reasons why employers should encourage their employees to consider board service or volunteerism.

First and foremost, generational studies have shown that the youngest workers joining our workforce are community-minded. Most have engaged politically on social issues and have a desire to help. They see the social advantages of volunteering and they truly believe in being part of bigger causes. An employer who supports their staff in pursuing the nonprofit and community action initiatives that interest them is an employer who understands the importance of retention strategies. Showing your employees that you want to give them the time to pursue the causes that are meaningful to them shows the employee you value their happiness and what they find to be important. That’s huge.

Secondly, and most importantly to me, is the leadership void that we’re in the midst of and the need to identify and engage the next generation of leaders in our communities. Not to mention volunteerism is a key component to leadership development in myriad ways including team engagement, financial oversight, strategic decision making, and individual skillset growth. There’s a self-reliance that board members build by taking on leadership commitments that helps develop essential traits.

Free resources like the Maine Association of Nonprofits’ Board Explorer are extremely helpful in connecting individuals that are seeking opportunities to serve on boards as well as for nonprofits looking to enhance their boards with new perspectives and talents. Maine also has a number of regional networking groups dedicated to raising awareness around mission-driven organizations.

Let’s face it — in a decade, many of our veteran leaders will be off enjoying well-earned retirements. I am 44 years old, and of the boards I’m on, I’m one of the youngest people in the room. Now is the time for businesses to help their next leaders cultivate the skills and connections they will need, by engaging them with community organizations.

Cory R. King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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