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Ep 8 - Nicole Miller-Coleman What Do I Need to Know or Look for When Joining a Nonprofit Board?

​​Are you considering joining a nonprofit board but unsure of what to look for or what to expect? In Episode 8 of The Nonprofit Counsel Podcast, we sat down with Nicole Miller-Coleman, an experienced consultant in the nonprofit sector, to shed light on the key factors to consider when taking on this important role.

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Introducing Nicole Miller-Coleman, MA, CNP, CFRE

Are you considering joining a nonprofit board but unsure of what to look for or what to expect? In Episode 8 of The Nonprofit Counsel Podcast, we sat down with Nicole Miller-Coleman, an experienced consultant in the nonprofit sector, to shed light on the key factors to consider when taking on this important role.

Nicole Miller-Coleman is the founder of Criterium Nonprofit, a consulting agency dedicated to helping nonprofits thrive. With 16 years of experience in the San Diego nonprofit sector, Nicole has transitioned from the arts to fundraising consulting. Her mission is to assist nonprofits in making money to serve their purpose and to help them tell their story in a way that endears them to donors.

What are CNP’s and CFRE’s?

Before delving into what to look for when joining a nonprofit board, we would like to discuss the certifications that make Nicole such a wondering resource of nonprofit knowledge; CNP and CFRE. CNP stands for Certified Nonprofit Professional, a certification obtained through extensive nonprofit coursework. CFRE, on the other hand, stands for Certified Fundraising Executive, which is earned through courses as well as accomplishments related to fundraising for nonprofit purposes and volunteer work. There are currently only 7700 CFREs in the 25 countries it exists in, making it the gold standard for fundraisers. An admirable aspect of CFREs is their adherence to a Code of Ethics, emphasizing ethical fundraising practices.

When you are asked to sit on a board, what should you look for?

If you've been asked to join a nonprofit board and you believe in the mission, you likely are eager to get started. However, it's crucial to protect yourself and ensure you're making a positive impact.
Here are some key factors to consider:

Check Compliance

Verify if the organization is in active standing with the IRS, the Secretary of State, and any state regulatory bodies like the California Franchise Tax Board. Compliance is a fundamental indicator of an organization's credibility.


Carefully read the organization's bylaws and ensure they align with your personal values and ethics. Bylaws are essential for the smooth operation of a nonprofit and should be transparent and fair. If these are not built well or followed by the organization, this could be a sign you don’t want to join the board and open yourself up to risk. You have a right to peruse bylaws before joining a nonprofit board, and in California these living documents are even available to the public. Transparency is an important factor to consider when debating joining a board.


Request copies of meeting minutes to get insights into the organization's decision-making process. Minutes are often a transcription of anything said in the meetings, however, May expresses that they should likely be more specific than that. She suggests that minutes are an art form, and should generally only be motions and resolutions that must be discussed, who voted for and against them, and if the motion carries. They should not contain extraneous information, or side conversations which could easily accidentally turn inappropriate. If an organization wishes to keep transcripts of entire conversations that is absolutely doable, however they should not be considered meeting minutes. In summary, well-kept minutes should focus on motions, resolutions, and voting outcomes, avoiding extraneous information.

Document Retention, Whistleblower Protection, Conflict of Interest, and Insurance Policies

Ensure the nonprofit has policies in place for document retention, whistleblower protection, conflict of interest, and liability protection. These policies protect both the organization and board members.

Board Membership Diversity

May and Nicole also suggests evaluating the diversity of the current board members. Diversity can mean differences in background, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, and many other factors. A diverse board can bring a variety of perspectives and experiences, enriching the organization's decision-making

Nonprofit Leadership

Effective nonprofit leadership can vary depending on the organization's growth phase. In the initial growth phase, a charismatic leader may be needed to lead the organization to recognition and success. However, as an organization matures, a more steady and level-headed leader may be required to maintain stability and growth. In an ideal situation, a strong nonprofit organization is made up of individuals “rowing in the same direction,” and to build a team like this you need a very special kind of leader.

Professionals and Board Members

When it comes to professionals serving on nonprofit boards, caution is advised. While it might seem like a good idea to have attorneys and accountants provide pro bono legal and financial work, it's often best to hire outside professionals. This separation helps avoid conflicts of interest and ensures ethical practices. If you choose to offer pro bono work while serving on a board, always declare it on conflict of interest forms to maintain transparency and integrity.


Joining a nonprofit board is a commendable way to contribute to a cause you care about, but it's essential to do your due diligence and ensure the organization aligns with your values and provides the necessary safeguards. With these considerations in mind, you can make a meaningful impact on the nonprofit sector while protecting your own interests. Be sure to tune in to Episode 8 of The Nonprofit Counsel Podcast for the entire conversation with insights from Nicole Miller-Coleman on this important topic.

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