Share Your Skills on a Nonprofit Board


Share Your Skills on a Nonprofit Board

Use your skills from the corporate world to help a nonprofit fulfill its mission.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the January 2010 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Sharon Moody, 65, had long been attracted to the theater. But before retiring as a certified public accountant, she had little time to pursue this fledgling interest. Soon after moving to Norman, Okla., in 2006 to be closer to her daughter and teenage granddaughter, she became more involved than she ever thought she would be -- as a board member of a local arts group.

Moody’s rise was meteoric. She attended a workshop sponsored by the Performing Arts Studio in Norman, which is 20 miles south of Oklahoma City. "I suggested that they do a series of old-time radio programs using the original scripts from the likes of Fibber McGee and Molly, and Burns and Allen," says Moody, who had lived in Tulsa for 30 years. "It became a case of 'put up or shut up.' I was elected to the board with the purpose of making it happen."

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Today, Moody is assistant secretary of the nonprofit organization's board of trustees, spending several hours a week on fund-raising. She also produces regular programs for schools, libraries, churches and civic groups. The programs feature older residents who perform one-act plays as well as reading radio scripts.


Moody is one of many retirees who are offering services to boards of directors of local nonprofit groups. Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, says nonprofits turn to retirees for skills the groups often lack, from financial and legal acumen to marketing know-how. "For retirees, it's an opportunity to apply their corporate and professional skills and a chance to also learn new ones," Otten says. Retirees also tell her that they want to "try to do some good."

Joining a nonprofit board is not to be taken lightly. A director has substantial legal and fiduciary responsibilities. A board helps ensure adequate financial resources, and it hires a chief executive and then oversees the executive's performance.

If you want to be on a board, you will need to show the nominating committee that you have a passion for the organization's mission. Beyond that, you'll have to prove that you have particular skills that the board needs. You might boost your chances by serving as a volunteer for a while.

You'll need to ask about the time commitment. Also, find out how an organization is funded, and if board members are required to make a financial contribution. Make sure the group has liability insurance. Board members generally have personal legal liability, although malfeasance lawsuits are rare.


Transplanting Corporate Skills

Perry Colwell, 83, rarely had time for volunteer work before retiring in the early 1990s as a senior vice-president of financial management for AT&T. After moving from New Jersey to Chapel Hill, N.C., he joined the nonprofit boards of the local Planned Parenthood, Durham's Museum of Life and Science, and Durham's Center for Child and Family Health.

He finds that his past experiences in managing people and finances and orchestrating organizational change have been useful in his board assignments. "The critical skills I learned from my AT&T days are to know my subject cold and to try to anticipate questions and formulate answers," he says.

One of his biggest challenges was to look for an executive director for one of the nonprofits. He prepared a job description, asked several board members to interview the candidates, checked references, and gathered the interviewers to discuss the candidates and make a selection. Also challenging, he says, is "making budget cuts without affecting the agency's mission."


Organizations in ten communities, including Atlanta and Pittsburgh, will connect nonprofit boards with prospective members. Learn more at Local newspapers often list nonprofits seeking board members. Some smaller to midsize nonprofits pluck new board members from the roster of active volunteers.

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