NYC’s “Linkages” Program

Matches Prospective Board Members with Nonprofit Boards

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Headhunters and executive search firms are known as experts in locating high level job candidates. Some also find wealthy individuals to serve on the boards of non-profit organizations. But if you are an individual of moderate means, and you would like to serve as a nonprofit board member, how do you connect with the right organization—and how do you prepare yourself to serve well?

One New York City-based program helps match-make potential board members with non-profit organizations. Linkages Board Training and Placement Program is run by United Way of New York City. Linkages offers training for about 100 would-be board members every year—and then helps place each individual on an appropriate board.

Individuals who would like to be considered for the Linkages program must complete an online application, send a resume, and have an interview over the phone. It’s moderately competitive; about two out of every three applicants are accepted.

Most of Linkages candidates work in private companies. “Typically, they’ve been engaged in the community at some level,” notes Fred Fields, Senior Director at United Way of New York City. “They may have coached Little League, mentored someone, been a den mother or active in church. Now they are at a point in their lives where they feel confident in professional skills and have greater control over their time.”

Jean Banton, who manages the Linkages educational program for prospective board members, says participants undertake a two-day training course, held on consecutive Saturdays. The program consists of speakers, panel discussions, and even role-playing and covers such topics as board dynamics, how to handle different personalities and motivations on a board, how to work with a team on fundraising, and questions you should ask about a financial statement.

Because prospective board members will be asked to interview for the position, the training also covers what a board interview process would be like, and what a candidate should ask.

Linkages maintains a database of about 100 non-profit organizations actively seeking board members. They run the gamut from community health clinics, to after school programs for public school students, to organizations fostering arts and culture. The organizations range from small to medium in size, with annual budgets from almost nothing—five hundred bucks—to tens of millions. Linkages recruits organizations working in five areas: homelessness prevention, access to healthcare, education, building economic independence, and strengthening the non-profit sector in New York City. Three in four of the non-profits represented in the Linkages program ask board members to contribute $5,000 or less each year.

The vast majority of people who complete the Linkages training are ultimately placed on boards. United Way of New York’s Steve Kaufman notes, “There’s enormous diversity of opportunity. If a prospective board member has a serious interest they are likely to find a good match. The range of non-profit entities is extraordinary.”