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How many hours should I be devoting to nonprofit board service every month?

Lansie Sylvia. June 29, 2016 Category: ColumnFeaturedFundingLong

How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, email or tweet @FancyLansie.


How many hours should I be devoting to serving on a board of directors every month? I feel like the nonprofit board that I’m on is demanding too much from me, but it’s also my first board so I don’t know what is a reasonable expectation on my time.

TL;DR – Five to 10 hours per month, minimum.

Want to learn more? Let’s dive in!

Board leadership is an awesome way to give back to your community, build new skills and increase your professional network. Sometimes it’s also fun, but in my experience, that’s a tertiary benefit.

Not knowing anything about the organization you’re serving with, let’s start off with a few distinctions. Generally, boards get categorized in two ways: “working boards” and “governing boards.”

Working boards” are ones where the board members are actively accomplishing the organization’s mission — creating the programming, doing all of the fundraising, balancing the books, etc. A good example of this would be the Spruce Foundation, a local nonprofit that raises money from millennials and then disburses grants to Philly nonprofits that help kids. (Full disclosure: I served on the Spruce board for a year.)

With a “working board” there are often very few, if any, paid staff members associated with the organization. Often, that means the organization is pretty small. The board is doing more “on the ground” work, and less strategic oversight … mostly because they would be overseeing themselves!

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With a “governing board,” you’re getting into more traditional territory. This is the type of board I’m going to assume you’re serving on. A governing board is set up as a group of trusted advisors that provide oversight to a nonprofit. The individual board members are not doing the work, they’re overseeing the work. Their main jobs are to fundraise for the nonprofit, access their networks to help the nonprofit succeed, and contribute expertise when requested.

This is still work, mind you! It’s not like governing boards are just sitting around waiting to be tapped for their collective reservoir of wisdom.

With many governing boards, as an individual board member you’ll still be expected to serve on committees, give a set amount of money per year, get (or “raise”) a certain amount of money per year, and accomplish specific tasks related to these responsibilities.

So … how much time should that take? That’s really up to you, and when you were formally brought on to serve, the board you’re on should have given you a reasonable expectation of the time commitment they expected. But let’s assume they didn’t.

I recommend serving at least five to 10 hours per month, and that would include board meetings and events you’re expected to attend on behalf of the board. That breaks down to one to two hours per week. That sounds reasonable, right? Some weeks you’re going to be slammed at work and in your personal life, so you’ll need to re-prioritize your next week to chunk out a morning in a coffee shop and get your ish done.

“Less than three to five hours a month and you risk disengagement,” says Nick Marzano, board president at Young Involved Philadelphia. “More than five for working boards is totally appropriate. Being on a working board is definitely equal to a second full-time job. You need ride-or-dies, not just advisors.”

That being said, I’ve never heard anyone complain about his/her/their board members who were volunteering too much, so if you’re able to take on more responsibility, do it!

But if you can’t commit to five to 10 hours per month, do not serve on a board! By serving on a board, you are implicitly saying that you will be accountable to your fellow board members, and that you expect them to be accountable to you. It’s a volunteer position, but another way of saying that is it’s an unpaid job. And you need to do your job.


Is it weird to give away my old shoes? My feet were in there. They might be stinky. That’s weird, right?

People are weird about shoes. I will grant you this, intrepid advice-seeker. Personally, I’ve never understood it — I’m perfectly happy to go to Buffalo Exchange and purchase some moccasins that someone else has been walking in.

But people also need shoes! And you have shoes that you aren’t using! So let’s put them to use.

Anytime you’re donating used items, be they shirts or coffee makers or shoes, the important thing is that the items are clean and functional. For shoes, this would mean that they have laces, their soles are still firmly attached and there’s minimal scuffing. If they stink, Lifehacker says to use rubbing alcohol, and my grandmother says to use Odor-Eaters. Either way, de-stink before you donate!

For me, it’s worth a little extra effort to make sure your donations are put to good use right away. Get your collared shirts dry-cleaned before donating them to Broad Street Ministry. Fix a new heel tip to those pumps before sashaying over to Career Wardrobe. Screw a compact fluorescent light bulb into that lamp before dropping it off at Philly AIDS Thrift. That way, your gently used items will be on their way to a new home all that much faster.

Special thanks to Ben Stango, Nick Marzano, Katie Feeney, Rudy Flesher, Ivy Olesh and Arielle Brousse for their insights on this week’s column. You rock!


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