Much like the growing number of employers seeking out employees to fill their ranks, so too are local nonprofits and not-for-profits seeking board members to fill their crucial roles. To be perfectly clear at the outset, this has nothing to do with my Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber board and how we function. If I’m being honest, I’ll likely send this column to my team so they’re aware of it, but this absolutely does not have to do with the chamber, the chamber board or anything internally with our organization.

This does have to do with my unintentionally gained expertise in that I’ve been answering to a board of directors for over 16 years now. Before that, I was a board member of several boards (and still am to this day). That experience has helped me gain perspective on team dynamics and also witness the best and worst of board member behavior. In the past two weeks, four separate organization leaders have reached out to me to pick my brain about their organizations. Eventually, each of them mentioned either a struggle to retain board members, train board members or to get board members to engage.

Having strong nonprofits and community organizations is critical to the overall success and growth of any community. Our Bath-Brunswick region is loaded with numerous organizations that are doing mission-driven work that helps the disadvantaged, creates opportunities for citizens, helps our seniors, aids our pets, assists with health and well-being, and so much more. Yet noticeably, we’re seeing gaps in board participation.

It cannot be understated what an incredible leadership opportunity board seats can be for employees of any business. It’s not surprising that some businesses have asked their employees to pull back from volunteering as they are becoming more short-staffed and need their employees to help out with day-to-day duties. Yet I would caution business owners against pulling back your employees from engagement on boards for several reasons.

First and foremost, generational studies have shown that the youngest workers joining our workforce are community minded. Most have engaged politically on social issues and have a desire to help. They see the social advantages of volunteering and they truly believe in being part of bigger causes. An employer who supports their staff in pursuing the nonprofit and community action initiatives that interest them is an employer who understands the importance of retention strategies. Showing your employees that you want to give them the time to pursue the causes that are meaningful to them shows the employee you value their happiness and what they find to be important. That’s huge.

Secondly, and most importantly to me, is the leadership void that we’re beginning to see and the need to fill that with the next generation of leaders. It’s no surprise that the baby boomers are retiring, and those leaders need to be replaced. One would hope that the next leader comes into their position with at least some experience in a leadership role. Many positions are getting filled internally, with deserving people getting a promotion to the next rung on the corporate ladder. However, if everyone is taking one step up, then eventually you’ll come to an employee who is asked to step into a leadership role that is new to them. After years of entry-level experience, what have you done to cultivate leadership qualities in that employee?


This is where board volunteerism and, to a lesser extent, committee volunteerism play a critical role. Committee work is a great way to start involvement with a nonprofit, as it builds team concepts, collective execution and grows networks. Board work supersedes that, though, as committees typically don’t have the final say on projects and programs like a board does. Being on the leadership team that makes the decisions to support or deny a suggestion made from a committee is another level of commitment all together.

Your regional board of directors can teach you so many lessons on how groups should operate. For example, I’ve had instances when I was a board member of an organization not running a project or meeting according to the bylaws. It can be intimidating to bring that forward in a meeting, but it’s also the responsibility of each board member to make sure the organization is staying true to their founding documents. By speaking up, a board member develops the skill of having difficult conversations. It also will make them more aligned with your corporate policies and making sure policies and procedures are being followed at work.

Developing policies and political stances for a nonprofit board are two more ways that can lead to employees being more versed in the right way to address hot-button issues that your business may face. Reviewing budgets and auditing processes is something that sounds woefully boring to some people, but it’s a critical skill for leaders to develop, and being on a board does just that. It’s a tremendous opportunity for your employees to be able to hone that skill set while volunteering, and it’s outside the confines of their own employer. There’s a self-reliance that board members build by taking on leadership commitments that helps develop the individual.

Finally — and this is likely too blunt — many of our veteran leaders will not be around a decade from now; they will be off enjoying well-earned retirements. The amount of institutional knowledge and the decades of experience of how to be a good board member will be retiring with them. Now is the time to get your young leaders and those you envision for bigger things in your organization to become board members to learn from these leaders before they depart.

I’m 44 years old, and in most boards I’m on, I’m one of the five youngest people in the room. We need to actively cultivate new leaders. Encouraging your leaders of tomorrow to hone their skills by being an engaged board member today is an opportunity we cannot miss.

Cory King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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