Come on Board and Make a Difference

Oct 19, 2010 11:15 AM ET

By Tanya Marston

“I want to make a difference in the community, but I am not sure how and where I can do it.” This is a comment I heard often from my classmates in business school. Many were looking for ways to get involved with nonprofit organizations that went beyond a trash pick-up day or serving soup at the local shelter. They wanted to find a more engaged way to give back and possibly build some new skills in the process.

As someone who had served on the board of directors of two nonprofits, I immediately suggested board service as the solution. Through board service, you can help nonprofits increase their impact while gaining career-building skills in the process. During my board service, I created a three-year strategic plan, developed an individual donor plan, and managed a board committee for several years. Learning how to motivate volunteers, help an organization define its priorities, and raise resources in a challenging funding environment was rewarding and equipped me with important new leadership skills. 

When I learned about Net Impact’s Board Fellows program,  I couldn’t wait to tell my classmates. Board Fellows offer their valuable business skills to nonprofit organizations in the community and complete a specific project while serving as nonvoting board members for a year. In exchange, the Fellow has the opportunity to build his or her nonprofit management and governance skills, learn about the sector, and connect with other community leaders.

As my school’s chapter leader for the Net Impact Board Fellows Program, I helped to link classmates to local organizations. To ensure that Fellows got the most out of their experience, I invited the organizations to come in and make a pitch about their work and the issues they were addressing in the community. This helped inspire my classmates while providing them with the opportunity to ask questions and meet some of the staff members. The nonprofits had the opportunity to share the specific types of projects they needed help with so that they could attract potential Fellows who would be a good fit.

Several of my classmates went on to officially join the boards of the organizations they served as Fellows. As a result, they increased their networks, enhanced their resumes, and did what they initially set out to do — give back to the community in a meaningful way.

Are you interested in becoming a Net Impact Board Fellow or in joining a nonprofit board? Here are some tips you might find useful:

  1. Do your homework! Research the organization and understand the problem it addresses.

  2. Meet with staff or other board members to learn more about the organization and what types of skills they are looking for in board members or what specific projects they need help with.

Be engaged. I found that the more I gave, the more I got back in terms of learning and satisfaction.


BoardSource has recently formed a partnership with Net Impact, a global network of leaders who are changing the world through business. Many Net Impact chapters have Board Fellows programs, which place interested members on nonprofit boards for one-year fellowships. This post is one in a series by Net Impact board fellows.

BoardSource is dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service. BoardSource strives to support and promote excellence in board service, is the premier source of cutting-edge thinking and resources related to nonprofit boards, and engages and develops the next generation of board leaders.