Making a Difference Through Board Service

by Sandy Garza
Association of Fundraising Professionals, Central Illinois Chapter

The unique skills you bring from the business world can help nonprofits run more efficiently.

Central Illinois is known for being an incredibly compassionate and philanthropic community. This year, with so many nonprofit organizations in financial crisis, support from local businesses and individuals has been even more vital. Each year, a third or more of all revenue supporting the work of charitable nonprofits originates as payments for services performed on behalf of the government. However, the current Illinois budget impasse has reduced, delayed or completely halted payments to nonprofit charities. As the business community will understand, the larger your accounts receivable, the fewer resources that are available to provide services.

Combined with a presidential election year, the budget impasse means civic engagement is very high. A Blackboard study released in March illustrates how political giving may impact nonprofit support. The study finds that donors who gave to federal political campaigns in 2012 gave 0.9 percent more to charitable organizations compared to 2011. “The data shows that engagements breeds engagement, and donors often give robustly to both charitable and political causes,” explains Andrew Watt, President and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, citing the Blackboard study. Thankfully, local businesses and individuals continue to support local nonprofit charities in central Illinois.

The Right Messengers
Once you decide to make a difference in your community, the question becomes where and how your unique talents can best be applied. While many business professionals would enjoy building a home for the less fortunate, stocking shelves at a food pantry or reading to a young child, the truth is that the unique skills you bring from the business world can significantly help a nonprofit run more efficiently in areas such as hiring a new executive director, creating a strategic plan or critical financial planning.

If the “business” areas of the nonprofit are running efficiently, direct services can be delivered at maximum capacity. Therefore, volunteering on a board could offer the greatest return on your time and talent investment. Unlike other types of volunteerism, board service requires a significant commitment of time and dedication to serve effectively. However, the many benefits to your personal life, professional life and the community far outweigh the work required to be a great board member.

Tim Delaney, President and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, said it best: “Nonprofits are on the front lines of finding solutions to community problems, and board members are the right messengers to let policymakers know how decisions they make affect the work of nonprofits and the individuals and communities those nonprofits serve.”

Responsibilities and Benefits
What are the different roles and responsibilities of a nonprofit board member? The first involves governance of the organization: serving as a fiduciary, selecting and evaluating performance of the executive director, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and evaluating the organization's work as a whole. Secondly, board members should be fundraisers for the organization: planning fundraising strategies, supporting fundraising efforts and personally donating to the cause. Finally, board members are ambassadors for the organization: connecting new people to the mission, speaking to their personal networks about the mission, and serving as messengers to policymakers about how their decisions affect the nonprofit’s ability to provide services.

The personal benefits of board-level volunteerism include:

  1. Building a personal legacy. As a board member, you have the opportunity to use your voice and connections to implement the mission.
  2. Creating friendships. Sharing a passion can lead to friendships that last a lifetime.
  3. Channeling creativity. Through exposure to research and education about a cause for which you are passionate, you will be inspired by your ability to impact others.

And there are professional benefits as well:

  1. Building your skillset. Sharpen your current skills while learning new skills to add to your resume or LinkedIn profile. Board members utilize a range of business skills, including management, marketing, public relations, human resources, finance and governance.
  2. Expanding professional networks. Collaborating with other passionate and talented professionals will help you make key contacts for the future.
  3. Creating goodwill. Building social capital will give you a burst of professional inspiration and bolster your reputation as a community leader.

Training for Board Members

Fundraising is a vital area, and often new to board members. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Central Illinois Chapter is one of 230 chapters worldwide committed to professional education, advancement of philanthropy, fundraising professionalism and ethical fundraising practices. It offers monthly luncheons for professional development training, including programs and seminars featuring nationally recognized speakers, which are open to all fundraising professionals, board members and volunteers. For more information, visit afpcentralillinois.org.

Governance training is offered through our local Heart of Illinois United Way’s BoardSERVE training program. BoardSERVE is designed for people with limited board experience who wish to give back to the community through involvement as board or committee members. Contact Dominic Vallosio at dominic.vallosio@unitedway.org for information on the next training session.

If you are currently serving on a nonprofit board, we thank you for your dedication and service. If you are not currently serving on a board but would like to reap the advantages that come with board service, consider asking a colleague for recommendations or call a local nonprofit charity directly to find out more about becoming a board member. iBi

Sandy Garza is Vice President of Public Relations for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Central Illinois Chapter, and Development and Marketing Director at Crittenton Centers.

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