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"Our BoardAssist candidates have been amazing additions to our Board of Directors."

Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
Credit: Volunteers of America
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Volunteering vs. Serving on a Nonprofit Board vs. Donating – What Nonprofit Role is Best for You?

As New York’s leading personalized nonprofit board matching service, BoardAssist is approached daily by New Yorkers who want to make a difference in the nonprofit world but don’t know how to get started. For many, the decision has been made to give back, but they aren’t sure if they want to do so by joining a board, or just volunteering, or simply being a generous donor. For others, they want to join a board but are unclear on what the difference is between a full governing board seat, an advisory board role or a junior board position.

We hope this week’s post explaining the many different ways folks can serve the nonprofit community will help you on your journey. Thanks for considering any of these roles – the nonprofit community needs you!


Volunteering vs. Serving on a Nonprofit Board vs. Donating – What Nonprofit Role is Best for You?

With so many ways to help the nonprofit community, which way is best for you?  What follows is a discussion of some of the most common roles.

Serve as a Board Member

Serving as a board member is a terrific way to be an agent of change in the nonprofit community.  Board members oversee every aspect of a nonprofit’s day to day existence, from programming to finance.  What services should the nonprofit provide?  Are they providing these services as affordably and effectively as they can? How much should staff at the nonprofit be paid?  Should the nonprofit consider entering into a strategic partnership with another nonprofit?  Is the nonprofit located in a space that makes sense financially and from a programming point of view? Is the nonprofit communicating its message as optimally as possible? Is the nonprofit managing their volunteers in a way that makes them want to return?  Are consumers of the nonprofit’s services satisfied? Is the nonprofit being managed in keeping with nonprofit best practices? Is the nonprofit behaving in a fiscally responsible and transparent way?  These are just some of the questions that board members answer every day.

Key differentiating factor:  the Executive Director works for the board of directors and serves at their pleasure.  Ultimately board members have tremendous responsibility and control over what goes on at the nonprofit on whose board they serve.

Serve as an Advisory Board Member

Serving on an advisory board means different things to different nonprofits.  The key thing is that advisory board members advise vs. directing nonprofit staff.  At some nonprofits, an advisory role can be very significant, but at other nonprofits advisory board members primarily fundraise and raise visibility for the nonprofit that they serve.  They do not have oversight responsibilities.  (Note:  some folks mistakenly think an advisory board role will come with less of a financial obligation.  This is not always true.  Double-check before committing!)

Key differentiating factor:  advisory board members advise the nonprofit they serve, they do not have ultimate control over how the nonprofit acts.

Serve as a Junior Board Member

Junior board service usually entails a very similar role as serving as an Advisory Board Member.  Young professionals fundraise and raise visibility for the nonprofits they serve but increasingly these millenials are also valued for the branding, communications, tech, design and marketing skills they have – especially since many nonprofits are not up to date on the latest and ever changing ways of getting their message out.  Millenials are terrific at setting up new partnerships for the nonprofits they serve as well and often tapped for this role as well.

Key differentiating factor:  junior board members advise the nonprofit they serve, they do not have ultimate control over how the nonprofit acts.

Volunteer with a nonprofit

Volunteering with a nonprofit can often be very meaningful for someone who wants to make a difference in the nonprofit world.  Many nonprofits are becoming much better at engaging their volunteers in very substantive ways.  Whether you volunteer to serve at a soup kitchen or create a new website for a nonprofit, the right volunteer opportunity can be very satisfying.

Key differentiating factor:  volunteers do not have any oversight responsibilities and are not required to make a financial contribution to the nonprofit they serve (though many do).

Donate to a nonprofit

Donors are the lifeblood of any nonprofit.  Nonprofits always need money to carry out the important work they do.  While donors don’t necessarily exercise control over how a nonprofit functions, many donors will designate their dollars be used to a fund a specific program that is near and dear to that donor’s heart.  For an individual interested in being an agent of change in the nonprofit world, there are certainly meaningful ways to make that happen even if your time is limited and hence your role is solely through giving.

Thank you!

Whatever role you choose on your nonprofit service path, we thank you for the time and energy you bring to the nonprofit you choose to support!


Ready to jump in and consider joining a board?  Contact us at or HERE so we can get started helping you find a perfect board! Not quite ready to join a board but would like to hear more, visit Find a Board.  Wondering what to think about before joining a board, download our free booklet Giving Back.

Watch BoardAssist’s recent nationally televised interview discussing just how easy it can be to find the perfect nonprofit board.