Serving on a Nonprofit Board – A Sacred Trust, a Chance to Make a Difference, and a Source of Personal Reward

Serving on a Nonprofit Board – A Sacred Trust, a Chance to Make a Difference, and a Source of Personal Reward

After six years of board service, I recently finished my two-year term as chair of the Maine Philanthropy Center board.  As I thought about what I would say to my fellow board members at my last meeting, I landed on sharing with them some “this I believe” statements to share my thoughts about why I serve on nonprofit boards and to sum up my experience on the Maine Philanthropy Center board.

For those not familiar with it, the original 'This I Believe' series was hosted by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950’s. The series encouraged people to write and share essays articulating the core values that guide their daily lives. It was a venue for people from all walks of life to talk not just about what they do, but why. This I Believe was revived in 2004, with broadcasts on National Public Radio.

Why did I serve on the board of the Maine Philanthropy Center?

This I believe: Nonprofit organizations at their best form a web that upholds and enriches society.  And the boards of these organizations have a sacred trust with the public to ensure that they meet the intent of their nonprofit status. 

A nonprofit is a special type of corporation formed to achieve charitable purposes for the benefit of the broader community. Board members of a nonprofit are responsible for guiding the organization and ensuring that it is fulfilling its charitable purposes. They must, by law, employ the “duty of care,” which means acting and making decisions with prudence; and the “duty of loyalty,” which means acting in the best interests of the organization (and by extension its charitable purposes).

This I believe:  Board membership is not a role to be taken lightly.  It’s an honor to serve on a nonprofit board, but it’s also a great responsibility. Board members must act with intent, fiscal prudence, and integrity, always keeping in mind that the ultimate beneficiaries of our work are the people who live in the state.

The responsibilities of the Maine Philanthropy Center board are heightened because its charitable purpose is to provide leadership to promote philanthropy and increase its impact in Maine. Because MPC aims to increase the impact of philanthropy – a source of critical dollars that supports the very nonprofit web mentioned above – the responsibility of ensuring benefit to the people of Maine is doubly amplified.

Serving on a nonprofit board is not just about responsibilities. When a nonprofit board functions well, has a shared purpose, and the organization has a creative leader with committed staff, board service can truly be a source of enrichment, growth and fulfillment. It’s a chance to act on your core values to make a positive difference. Strong partnerships and long-term relationships form over time among board members and between board and staff.  In my experiences as a board member for MPC and other nonprofits, the benefits I have received have always outweighed the time and energy I have given.

This I believe:  Board service. It’s an honor, a duty, and a source of personal reward.

Maine is lucky to have a vital and active nonprofit sector with hundreds of dedicated board members. So for my colleagues in board service, I have a few questions: How do you discharge the “duties” listed above?  What do you give and get from your board service?  What do you believe?

Notes: 1) More information about the requirements for nonprofit board members in Maine can be found in the Guide for Board Members of Charitable Corporations on the Maine Attorney General’s website.

2)    Edward R. Murrow started 'This I Believe' in the 1950’s with the idea that because of the social unrest of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division, “never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” The new This I Believe was reborn as an independent nonprofit organization in 2004 to again provide a means for the sharing of deeply held ideas in order to help people develop respect for beliefs different from their own and partnered with National Public Radio to air these new essays. 


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