Five Reasons Why Every Student Affairs Professional Should Serve on a Non-Profit Board


Next week, I will officially end my three-year term as a member of the Board of Trustees for a non-profit that promotes the health and dignity of people living with HIV and AIDS. It has been a tremendous honor to serve in this capacity for such a long time and I am going to miss the organization and the people. I started off in this organization as a volunteer and soon became involved in its operational success as a trustee. It has been great to give back to my community. Unexpectedly, the organization has given me so many invaluable tools that will serve me in my career as a leader within higher education.

Serving on a non-profit board can increase competency, develop capacity, and shift your understanding of institutional effectiveness. Here are five reasons you should become involved in non-profit work:

  1. Improved Business Acumen. This is by far one of the greatest tools that student affairs professionals have in their arsenal. They learn how to balance budgets, they navigate complex human resource issues, they are knowledgeable about branding and messaging, and they understand the importance of advocating for financial resources. Each of these is essential to their success. And these are all things that you can do on a non-profit board. Learning about profit and loss sheets, working with FMLA or unemployment pay, crafting messages to donors and advocating on your organizations behalf are all skills that you develop when you are part of the governing body of a non-profit.
  2. Provided context for governance. At each of our campuses we have a governing body. Whether they are a board of directors, regents, or trustees, these individuals have been charged with ensuring the well being of their respective institutions. They have to look at the big picture when it comes to the operational and financial health of the organization in addition to ensuring that it is in compliance with its mission, visions, and values. These boards are entrusted to make decisions that have an impact on people. While the outcomes are not always popular, they are done with a common vision of sustaining the campus for years to come. Working with a non-profit allows you to clarify your own understanding of these governing bodies and learn to trust in their function, even though you may not always initially see the 30,000 foot view.
  3. Moving outside of your Higher Ed bubble. My non-higher education friends hate it when the rest of us get together. Why? Because we only talk shop. Our world revolves around our jobs, and in many cases, we actually live where we work. It can be easy to forget that worlds exist beyond our campus borders. Involving yourself in non-profit work provides a larger scope of how your campus fits into the larger landscape of your geographical region and puts you in touch with the needs of your community. Think of how this understanding can impact the town-gown relationship on your own campus. By framing your work in a larger context, you begin to see how things are interconnected. Additionally, serving on a board outside of higher education makes you a more interesting person and gives you more things to talk about at a cocktail party.
  1. Becoming a skilled fundraiser. The crux of non-profit work is about building solid relationships with donors. If you know how to win people over, you are more likely to raise funds than if you struggle to build connections. Fundraising is about developing positive rapport, selling the mission of the organization, and learning how to partner with others so that your relationship is mutually beneficial. As the future of higher education becomes more and more scrutinized, financial resources are going to be under the microscope at most institutions. If you know how to bring both internal and external people on board so that they ultimately believe in the mission of your division or department, you will have higher success in getting what you need. More Student Affairs divisions are starting to look externally for funding sources for programs and initiatives. Capital fundraising is an invaluable tool in your wheelhouse because you can maximize your ability to build a premier student affairs program.
  1. Setting an example of servant leadership. One of the tenants of higher education is to prepare, develop and engage global citizenry. We want/hope/expect our students to go out and change the world. But how are we showing them what this looks like? Are we truly demonstrating the importance of being involved beyond your collegiate experience, being invested in something greater than yourself, and working to shape the world we live in beyond just our profession? If the answer to that is no, we are not demonstrating servant leadership and truly showing these students how to become engaged citizens.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day lives of our students, our work, our campuses, or even our own lives. But in order to develop skills and competency to further develop these, I firmly believe there is nothing better than giving to others through service on a non-profit board. As for me, I am stepping off of this board, better for the experience, and so grateful to so many people who have been a part of this journey with me.

What are your thoughts? Tweet at me @TM_Porter



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