Giving Your Time: Why Serve on a Nonprofit Board?

For Michelle Pavliv, it happened by accident. In 2004, when her friend suggested they join The National Charity League Inc., a national nonprofit organization with local chapters providing ways for mothers and daughters to serve in their communities together, Pavliv saw it as good bonding time with her own daughter, and agreed. It turned out, though, that the closest chapter was full, and so Pavliv was thrust into board service when she founded the local Cardinal chapter.

“When I was presented the opportunity to work with The National Charity League, I was open to it because I was already giving back in the community, and personally, it was a really great way to connect with my daughter and share some of those values,” Pavliv said. “But it turned into so much more that I wasn’t expecting, and gave me the tools I needed to be the best board member I could be in the future.”

In addition to the “very valuable experience” she gained from starting that chapter, Pavliv says she was able to learn about all the parts of an organization because what they were doing was entirely grassroots with no paid staff. “I am happy being a governing board member or a chief cook and bottle washer, as long as I am staying busy” she said. Over time, she was able to join the organization’s national leadership training team and benefited from excellent training; she credits her facilitation expertise to that period of time when she would travel to different chapters and provide training for their boards.

Being able to positively impact her community has always been important to Pavliv. A past volunteer for the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic, and most recently a board member for Habitat of Wake County, Pavliv has years of service and philanthropic support under her belt, and says that knowing what she could offer organizations was really important for her – and for them.

“I’ve been volunteering for nonprofits my entire life. As I got older and more experienced, the service opportunities changed. The skills I had to offer in leadership and management had more value than the volunteer labor I provided when I was younger. I want to offer an organization the best of what I have at this point in my life. As long as I’m passionate about their mission, I’m happy to give back.”

Pavliv shares advice for anyone on the fence about serving on a nonprofit board.

 Why Board Service?

  • Serving on a board is an opportunity to do even more for an organization that you are already passionate about.
  • As a board member you are entrusted with the fiduciary responsibility to see that donor funds are well spent, and to protect their best interests and the best interests of the organization.
  • You likely will get to work on the organization’s strategic direction, alongside some of the most passionate staff in any sector, to grow and/or focus the vision of what they can do in the community to make a stronger impact. That’s exciting and
  • You have a skill set, and organizations need it. Maybe you’re bringing experience with finance, or a legal perspective, or maybe you’re a connector and you can bring in community or business leaders to the organization. Every board is different, and they all need different expertise that you could bring – but be careful, you want to fit their needs, and not the other way around.

What to Think About First

  • Make sure you understand the time commitment, because it varies by organization. You should ask what they require and be prepared to commit to it. I try not to say yes until I can give it my all – and that includes prep work and serving as an ambassador when you’re out in the community too.
  • Conflicts of interest are okay because they show a diverse board, but be prepared to disclose them so you don’t get yourself or the organization in trouble down the road.
  • You should protect yourself – ask about directors’ and officers’ insurance, and find out about the stability of the organization, the relationship between board and staff, to make sure that the organization is healthy. Go with your gut if you don’t like something you hear.
  • Be prepared for that first meeting. Look at their 990, at their website, and learn about the organization as much as you can. And then do the work to understand the things you don’t normally shine at (in my case, financials).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In reality, asking that question you think is stupid may alert them to something that wasn’t seen before. Too often organizations have the tendency to do things the way they’ve always done them, and it’s up to you to offer the opportunity for change if needed – they may need to hear they have permission to change.

Michelle Pavliv is a retired food scientist who now spends her time actively engaged in service in local and global communities. She considers herself a philanthropist: a person who not only donates money, but donates time, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world. She offers her time and talent with unskilled labor, leadership, and management expertise.