Serve Our Community: Join a Nonprofit Board

If you’ve never served on the board of a nonprofit organization, or aren’t currently on one, here is an invitation to consider providing this service to your community.

Nonprofits—sometimes called civil society or the “third sector” of society, alongside business and government—fulfill a vitally important role in the life of communities. They identify and meet essential needs that aren’t profitable for private enterprise and should not be subjected to the shifting political pressures on public officials. They embody what Alexis de Tocqueville identified two centuries ago as the underlying strength of American democracy—voluntary collaboration to achieve common goals.

Nonprofit organizations promote the arts and other cultural enrichment, provide educational opportunities, improve public health, conserve the landscape, facilitate communication, dialog and planning, and support those (such as youth, the elderly, those who are disabled or disadvantaged) whose needs are not always well served in the everyday bustle of the economy.

One characteristic of the Woodstock area that bodes well for our long term resilience is the presence of many active, engaged nonprofit organizations. Sometimes people complain that there are too many, in proportion to the size of the population. Leaders of these organizations are quite familiar with the “donor fatigue” that people experience when they receive more fundraising appeals than they can comfortably respond to. Yet this community does make a commendable effort to support an effective third sector here, and it shows in the quality of life we enjoy.

Still, because there is not a large population base, it can be challenging to find enough community members to serve on nonprofit boards. So the point of this column is to urge you to consider joining a board. Whether or not you’ve ever served on one before, or have any experience managing an organization, or think you have enough time in your busy life, please go and talk to the director or a board member of any community organization whose work touches your life or which you find especially interesting. Find out what they need and how you can help.

It is not necessary to have special expertise or deep pockets to serve on a board. Your life or career experience, your network of acquaintances, and, above all, your common sense judgment are all valuable to a nonprofit organization. The purpose of a board of trustees is to provide community oversight to ensure that a nonprofit is fulfilling its mission and operating reasonably and responsibly. Board members are also ambassadors to the community, promoting an organization’s work and helping it find support.

Several of Sustainable Woodstock’s most experienced board members will be leaving us at the end of this year, after serving out their terms. We have begun looking for new people who care about the quality of life and viable future of this region. If you feel aligned with our mission and work but haven’t stepped forward before, please contact me and I’ll be very happy to talk with you about the work we do on the board. Then you can decide whether or not you’d be willing to join us. You can reach me by email at

And even if our work doesn’t call to you, please do look at other nonprofit organizations in the Woodstock area and find one you’d feel good about supporting by offering some of your time and experience to its board.

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