The Volunteer Perspective
The two roles are not mutually exclusive, but two hats must certainly be worn with one being tighter on the head than the other depending on the task at hand. As a volunteer for a medical 501(c)(3) nonprofit in my community, I get the satisfaction of helping an organization work more efficiently in their mission to help the less fortunate fulfill their non-emergency medical needs. I’m humbled working with medical professionals who selflessly devote time, effort and energy to help people of all shapes and sizes for free. Working with a nonprofit has made such an impression on me that I’m now a proponent of making volunteer service a requirement of all young people in school so they learn to respect, value and appreciate fellow human beings without judgement or stereotype.
The Board Member Perspective
As a board member for the same medical nonprofit, I use my strategic thinking and management skills to help advise the executive team on the best path for the nonprofit. My duty as a board member is to be supportive and complimentary when deserved but ask the tough questions when required and necessary. The key, in my opinion, is to think about the information the executive committee presents with a critical perspective. You don’t do the nonprofit any favors by not challenging assumptions when presented. In addition, I’ve learned quickly that most boards are made up of working and non-working members. Some board members like the idea of being on the board for their own benefit which is fine. Others like to work from a board level perspective as a fundraiser, a volunteer or a leader. However, a board member who is on the board for show will probably be pushed into working at some point during their tenure due to lack of resources. Either way decide which type of board member you want to be, then become a working member. You’ll thank yourself later.
I continue to have great and fulfilling experiences working for a nonprofit as a volunteer and board member. I continue to learn new things about managing people and programs from a non-business perspective. Some things are heart-warming like appreciating the benefit nonprofits provide to communities without condition. Some things are frustrating like the tendency of nonprofits to avoid simple change when needed. I hope the future holds more nonprofit involvement opportunities for me. I strongly encourage everyone I meet to take the leap and help a local nonprofit in your community. You won’t regret it. Good luck!