Giving Your Time: Serving on a Nonprofit Board

By Matthew Gatt, CFP® 

When I need space to think and mull over unresolved issues, I often head to Wildcat Canyon with my dog for a long hike in the wilderness. This precious time, unplugged from my phone and the distractions of everyday life, allows me space to process, prioritize, and reach a sense of calm that can be hard to find in our busy lives.  

In 2018, a North Berkeley colleague introduced me to YES Nature to Neighborhoods. Based in Richmond, YES is a nonprofit that provides the kind of access to nature that I value so highly, with a focus on providing access to youth and their families who may never have been able to spend sustained time away from their urban neighborhood. I immediately felt a connection to their mission, and our shared belief in the healing power of the outdoors.  

YES was originally founded in 1999, and the organization now engages more than 500 participants annually through summer camps and year-round programming. Through these programs, they cultivate leadership among Richmond youth, adults, and whole families through training and strong mentorship, and collaborate in the effort to increase equity and inclusivity in the outdoors. 

After learning more about the organization, I was asked to join the YES board. I was excited to meet a like-minded group of people, and for the opportunity to work towards their mission. Having two very active young children with their own commitments, I first needed to understand and carefully consider the time commitment and the organization’s expectations of the role and any fundraising responsibilities. 

Understanding the Role of a Board Member

If you are considering joining a committee or the board at a nonprofit organization, it is wise to learn as much as you can about their expectation for your commitment of both time and financial contribution, especially since this can vary significantly by the organization. It’s also important to know that board directors have specific fiduciary duties that require them to act with loyalty, due care, and adherence to the organization’s charitable mission. 

Beyond the legal responsibilities, here are a few questions that can be helpful in exploring a potential board role: 

How long has the board been around, and are there well-defined roles and responsibilities? A brand-new organization may require far more hands-on work than one that has been around for decades and has a developed staff and established funding relationships. 

What is the financial health of an organization? It’s good to know if you are stepping into a challenging situation or expected to support a shoestring budget, or if the organization has a strong operating reserve and a deliberate strategy to weather a financial crisis if and when it arises.   

What does the organization expect from its board members? Find out how frequently board meetings are held, and whether there is an explicit fundraising expectation or required number of volunteer hours for board members. Time commitment can also be related to the particular skillset you are being recruited for – whether that is financial management, expertise in the services or community the nonprofit is serving, connections to donors or local policymakers, organizational leadership, or something else. 

Does the organization have directors & officers (D&O) liability insurance? Having proper insurance in place means that the personal assets of board members are protected from lawsuits or debts related to the organization. 

What is my financial commitment? Virtually every board requires a financial contribution from board members, even if board members have different capacity and make contributions proportionate to their own financial situation. The request to give is often called a “personally significant contribution,” and funding organizations like to see that all members of a board are committed to at least a minimum level of personal financial contribution. There may also be a “give/get” amount the organization requests that helps you think about how to tap into your networks to provide contributions during annual campaigns even if you cannot make a large contribution yourself.  

How long is the board term? If you are going to commit yourself to this organization, it’s good to know if that expectation is for one, two, or three years. If there is no set term, then you should be upfront about your own expectations, or be willing to serve for an extended period of time since it can be hard to step away from an organization with pressing needs and an important mission.  

Understanding Your “Why”

For many, investing back into your community is the biggest reason for joining a board, and finding an opportunity to do even more for an organization you are already passionate about. It might be a way to expand your network or develop new leadership skills as your career grows. For retirees, it can be a way to continue to be involved in your community, sharing your specialized knowledge and meeting new people who share your commitment to the organization’s mission. 

I was motivated by many of those factors in my decision to join the YES board. I’ve been serving as Treasurer for nearly five years now, and have had a great deal of satisfaction in connecting my friends and family with the organization, giving them something in turn to be excited about. Beyond the administrative work, I was also able to attend the week-long summer camp with my daughter, where she and I were able to share the experience YES provides Richmond families for whom this may be their only opportunity to get into nature. 

When you are excited about the mission of the organization and its effectiveness, taking on the challenge of board leadership is easier. Serving as a nonprofit board member can be demanding and time-consuming, but there is also enormous satisfaction that comes from being part of an organization that is creating tremendous good in your community. Starting with a strong commitment to the mission, clarity about the expectations, and an understanding of your personal motivations will help you thrive in the role.  


Read more about YES Nature to Neighborhoods.  


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Matthew Gatt, CFP - Lead Advisor 

About Matthew Gatt, CFP®

Matthew Gatt is a Lead Advisor at North Berkeley Wealth Management. He works with clients to align their financial lives with their personal values.

Read more about Matt

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By |2023-07-10T14:43:23-07:00June 23rd, 2023|