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How to Encourage Commitment from Nonprofit Board Members

Many people think a nonprofit board member's primary role is to raise money. In fact, a popular slogan addressed to board members who aren't raising funds is "Give, get, or get off." Harsh, isn't it? But nonprofits can't fulfill their purposes effectively without money, and board members who take an active interest in the organization's financial vitality are important. But a board member's role is broader than fundraising.

Other roles include staying well informed about the organization's work, selecting leadership, setting policies, planning, overseeing, and serving as an ambassador for the organization. Many highly skilled volunteers think they shouldn't serve on boards because they aren't wealthy, and this misconception represents a real loss to nonprofit organizations.

Some people are reluctant to serve on boards for other reasons, including personal and financial liability. However, unpaid volunteers who aren't grossly negligent and act in good faith have some protection under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997. If you need more information about the possible liabilities of board members and volunteers, get in touch with BoardSource or your state's association of nonprofit organizations through the National Council of Nonprofits.

Organizations can protect their boards by purchasing directors' and officers' insurance. Generally, the organization's creditors can't come after its board members' personal wealth for payment. An exception is that the IRS can hold board members financially accountable when organizations fail to pay payroll taxes.

But even the IRS will work with an organization to develop a payment plan and schedule to catch up on taxes. People are right to take the responsibility of board service seriously, but nonprofit board work also can be fun and satisfying.

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