October 12, 2016

Serving on a Non-Profit Board Takes Special Skills and Training


HONORED FOR VOLUNTEERING: Set to receive awards October 25 for their work helping area non-profits through VolunteerConnect are, left to right: recipients Mika and Pat Ryan, Jane Latini, Kathy Lo Bue, and Aquatia Owens. The honorees gathered recently at a special event launch held at CoolVines in Princeton.

Back when Amy Klein was a stay-at-home Mom, she was asked to join a local non-profit’s board of trustees. She gave it some serious thought. But ultimately, she declined.

“I had no idea what was being asked of me, what I had to contribute or how I could make a difference,” recalled Ms. Klein, whose children are now grown. “I feel it was a missed opportunity.”

Ms. Klein thought back to that experience when she and her colleagues at VolunteerConnect, the Princeton-based organization she directs, were developing a program to help link non-profits with potential board members. Called BoardConnect, it has been up and running since spring 2014, placing more than 40 participants on non-profit boards of organizations like Homefront, Enable, the Latin American Legal Defense Fund, Trenton Community Music School, and Princeton Nursery School.

“If I had had a program like BoardConnect to turn to, it would have made a huge difference in my decision and I am certain that I could have made an impact on that organization,” Ms. Klein said. “I know that others have had similar experiences; whether they are working or not doesn’t matter. They often want to help, give back, or have more purpose in their lives. This program gives them the tools to make it happen.”

Learning the ins and outs of serving on a board is only one focus of VolunteerConnect. The organization also matches non-profits with volunteers who have just the skills a non-profit  might need. On October 25, VolunteerConnect will hold its annual Impact Awards at the Boathouse at Mercer Lake in West Windsor. Being honored are Pat and Mika Ryan, Interfaith Caregivers of Greater Mercer County, and PNC Bank. In memory of the late Liz Erickson, who served on the VolunteerConnect board, the individual award going to the Ryans is now called the Liz Erickson Volunteer Impact Award.

“This is the most prestigious honor given by VolunteerConnect,” Ms. Klein said. “It recognizes what Liz gave and what she did. She was known for her generous heart, her mind, and her commitment to the impact of volunteerism.”

BoardConnect is only two years old, but it has become the anchor program of VolunteerConnect. Trianing is twice a year, in spring and fall. “The focus is on people who have not served on non-profit boards. They learn how to be more effective board members,” Ms. Klein said. “We train them on issues such as governance, fiduciary responsibilities, legal issues, advocacy, and fundraising — all of the topics they need to know and understand so they can be most effective.”

It is a common misconception that serving on a board of trustees requires contributing and substantial amount of money. Not so, according to Ms. Klein.

“There are so many other things individuals can bring to a board,” she said. “A lot of people say it’s the three t’s: time, talent, and treasure. But the treasure part can be done in many ways. A solid non-profit board is diverse. You’ll have people who reflect your community in all different ways. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s connections, sometimes it’s people who can advocate for you. What most non-profit boards ask is that people give to the best of their personal ability. For some that might be $50, and for others it’s thousands. Also, they ask to be one of your top three charities.”

Participants in BoardConnect spend eight hours learning the ins and outs of board service before attending a Meet and Greet Nonprofit Fair, where introductions are facilitated between “graduates” of the program and non-profits looking for new trustees. “The organizations are happy. And the graduates are happy because they now have the education and confidence they need,” Ms. Klein said. “We’re taking away the difficulty of finding a board they can feel passionate about. It’s really a win/win for both sides.”