Passion and Presence

I often get asked about the requirements of being a board member. And that’s a great question! Afterall, these folks are responsible for the leadership, vision, and long-term sustainability of amazing organizations that are committed to making our world a better place. 

So, many people are surprised when they learn that there really are no restrictions to who can serve on a nonprofit Board of Directors. There are a few states that have age requirements, but those can be easily circumvented through an agency’s ByLaws. So pretty much anyone can serve on a board. 

Who Can Serve?

That being said, there are some people who it would probably be a bad idea to put on a board. For example, anyone who has a conflict of interest could be a bad choice. This might be an employee, spouse of an employee, or anyone who could consistently gain financially from decisions made by the board. These folks would have to regularly recuse themselves from conversations, to the point where it might be difficult to be actively involved. Not only that, as the board members develop working relationships (which is a good thing!), it may be hard for other volunteers to make unbiased decisions due to their connections. 

Depending on the kind of board, the industry they are working in, and the longevity of the organization, individual boards may have specific needs. Boards often like to have someone with some business sense, content experts, or representation from the constituents they serve. But these are not legal requirements, and not everyone on the board will fall into one of the desired categories. 

Since there are no requirements in terms of skills, knowledge, experience, or other credentials – it begs the question, what does the organization and the board need from regular old people? I personally think that the two best things a person can bring to a board are attributes accessible to anyone. Those are passion and presence


When a board is looking for a new volunteer, I always tell them to look for passion first. Even if the organization really needs someone to help with their books, that should be secondary. If a volunteer is not passionate about the work, it’s going to be very easy for them to put the agency’s needs on the back burner. We want volunteers who care about the cause being addressed, not someone who has been talked into helping. 

This isn’t to say that people cannot develop a passion by learning more about the problem the agency is working to solve. Not being super passionate about a cause is not an automatic disqualifier. It just puts more pressure on the organization to educate and engage the new volunteer in understanding the work. 


The second component – presence – is something anyone can give to any organization. The simple (but not easy) act of being a mindful, thoughtful, present volunteer is one of the best things a volunteer can give to an agency. Because what a nonprofit really needs from their board is volunteers who take their role seriously and contribute in meaningful ways. 

Headspace (a free meditation app) defines being present as being focused on one thing — a conversation, a project, a task in hand — without distraction, without wanting to be somewhere else, without being in your head and lost in thought.

The nonprofit industry needs fully-present volunteers, committed to understanding their role and bringing thoughtful energy to the work of leading our nonprofit organizations. They do not necessarily need them to be an expert in the work they do, but they need volunteers to bring their opinions, their insights regarding the community and trends, and their critical thinking. These are all things that a volunteer can start contributing at meeting #1. There may be a lot of questions at first, and I always encourage volunteers to ask lots of them. If one person has the question, others can probably also gain insight from the conversation. 

Some people work at being present, for some it comes natural, and for others they may not give it much attention. So, how do we cultivate more presence of mind among governance volunteers? Here are a few ideas to try in board and committee meetings:

  • Kick off meetings with an opening thought
  • Create a segue from whatever volunteers had going on before the meeting, to the work of the meeting
  • Open with a mission moment
  • Consider implementing breathing exercises (here’s a great video on the power of breathwork) 
  • When it’s becoming clear that focus us waning, take a mindfulness break
  • Implement techniques like small group discussions or “all play” input to ensure everyone stays engaged
  • If you have other ideas for fostering presence in your board (or life), please share them with me!

When businesses are hiring, they often talk about the importance of hiring for attitude. This is because they believe they can train for everything else. Bringing on a governance volunteer is not much different. An organization can train and educate on the cause, the work, and the expectations. An organization usually needs the full engagement of their volunteers right away. “Hiring” for passion and presence means more engagement faster.

I love helping organizations to curate the board they need to advance the work of their organization. Email me at or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss ways to improve the health of a Board of Directors you know and love.

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.