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Spotlight on Pro Bono: Turn ‘Bored’ into ‘Board’

If summer’s end has you feeling a little restless, consider expanding your personal and professional lives by joining a nonprofit board of directors. Illinois has over 35,000 registered charities, covering any cause you can think of – from providing job training for people with autism to promoting African dance as an agent for positive change. If you have a closely held belief or a passion for a particular purpose or mission, there is undoubtedly an Illinois nonprofit for you to support. Support comes in a multitude of ways, from financial contributions to volunteering to raising awareness. 

As members of a self-governing profession, attorneys have a professional responsibility to help their communities in a charitable way. One special way to contribute to a nonprofit that aligns with your interests is to serve on its board of directors. All not-for-profit corporations – also called 501(c)(3)s – are governed by a board of directors. The size and activities of the board vary from organization to organization, but every nonprofit board has three duties:

  • Duty of care
  • Duty of loyalty
  • Duty of compliance

For a deeper explanation of these duties, see the National Council of Nonprofits.

Don’t think you are board material? Many people feel they need to be established (wealthy) philanthropists to serve on a board. Remember that most nonprofits are not at the level of Feeding America, with a billion dollar annual budget. Many small or new nonprofits are looking for board members who are willing to roll up their sleeves and contribute their time as much as their treasure. 

There is no shortage of resources available to help you discern whether being a director is right for you, and whether an organization is best suited to your interests, experience, skills, and giving level. For example, see:

While giving back to the community is top of mind for board service, serving on a board also has several other benefits that go beyond altruism. For instance, boosting your resume, building your experience, or learning new skills may be advantages gained from directorship. Many merits to board service are listed in Joan Garry’s blog, 10 Reasons to join a Nonprofit Board. While Joan covers it in her post (but only ranks it as number seven), networking and business development is a critical benefit of joining any board. The relationships you build with other directors may open professional opportunities that you didn’t know existed. 

Many nonprofits would love to get lawyers on their boards. Because of our rules of professional responsibility, be aware of acting as an advisor to your nonprofit if you are also a board member. For more information, see these resources:

In summary, directorship on a board is an important way lawyers give back to causes that resonate with them while also building their sphere of influence. If you already have a nonprofit that you love, ask about openings on the board. If you are not sure where to look, check out the postings on Volunteer Match, LinkedIn, or Charity Scenes. There is an Illinois nonprofit out there who needs your leadership.

Posted on September 4, 2018 by Rhys Saunders
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