Individualized Board Match Counseling

Connecting Nurses to Nonprofit Board Service

Bernadette Park, DNP, MSN, ANP, RN; Cynthia Holle, DNP, MBA, RN, NHDP-BC; Lisa Sundean, PhD, MHA, RN; Jane Dixon, PhD, RN; Carmen Portillo, PhD, RN, FAAN


Nurs Econ. 2021;39(6):285-292,303. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Nurses report lack of professional connections as a barrier to board service. Paired with an educational board preparation intervention, this project strategically placed participating nurses on nonprofit boards that aligned with their passions and skill sets through individualized board match counseling utilizing philanthropy as connectors.


Nonprofit organizations play a critical role in addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) and need effective governance to function successfully. Nonprofits increasingly recognize the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in board composition as critical to constructive board governance. In contrast, how community members gain access to boards has yet to be fully developed. As a result, many nonprofit boards lack the racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity to make them representative of the communities they serve and increase their effectiveness (Gould et al., 2018; Teitsworth, 2018). In addition, many board appointments are initiated through word of mouth, with no formal tapping into a wider candidate pool, furthering homogeneity.

Nurses are a diverse workforce actively addressing the SDOH with skills translating into board competencies (see Figure 1). They are competent in strategic planning, quality and safety assurance, program development and evaluation, and fiduciary responsibility is germane due to the high levels of trust placed in them (Harper & Benson, 2019).

Figure 1.

Nurses on Boards/Nonprofit/Health Equity Schema
SDOH = social determinants of health

Nevertheless, for many nurses, the path to securing a fulfilling and effective board role is unclear. Approximately 4% of nurses serve on hospital boards, with less than 2% serving on nonprofit boards, mainly because of perceived and fundamental lack of connections to their community nonprofits (Prybil, 2016). In addition, many nurses do not envision nonprofit board service as part of their professional identity (Sundean et al., 2019); as a result, they are not visible in their communities as thought partners and overlooked for board service. As advocates who often work and live in the communities they serve, nurses can meet the need for DEI on nonprofit boards. In addition, engaging more nurses in nonprofit board governance can lead to more effective delivery of services, thus improving health in their communities (Murt et al., 2019; Sundean et al., 2019).

Governance education for nurses is a critical component of their development as nurse leaders with the potential to build a culture of health and improve population health (Sundean et al., 2019). However, preparation for board service remains an area nurses frequently cite as lacking in their education and training. Organizations such as the Nurses on Boards Coalition (2020) offer practical guides, personal educational sessions, and other resources to help nurses prepare for and pursue service on boards that is impactful because it meets their interests and passions (Cleveland & Harper, 2020; Harper & Benson, 2019). The nonprofit training and education program Best on Board Essentials of Health Care Governance is an example of an online certification based on Curran's (2016) book Nurse on Board: Planning Your Path to the Boardroom.

While the literature on educating nurses and developing board competencies exists, no formalized process exists to connect nurses to boards. Instead, the focus is competencies training and education, attitude modification, and nurses independently and informally seeking committee volunteer positions. Finding mentors and networking are ways nurses can prepare for board service (Salmon, 2016), yet formal mechanisms are lacking.

Having "the right nurse on the right board for the right reason" (Harper & Wray, 2019, p. 324) is both a means to effective governance for community nonprofits and the goal of board preparation and individualized board match efforts for nurses wanting to serve. Other professionals, such as (predominantly White, male) lawyers and businesspeople, automatically see their board service (right board) as an extension of their professional identity (right person) and a natural way to serve their communities (right reason).

Bridging these prevalent board-community divides by placing nurse leaders on boards requires a twofold approach. First, a shift in beliefs is necessary, whereby nurses see nonprofit board service as a form of nurse leadership. Second, a more democratic process should be systematized to facilitate and improve access to boards by nurse leaders. There is a need to prepare nurses as leaders for effective board service and to connect them with the nonprofit boards that seek their input. This project aimed to facilitate the placement of nurses on nonprofit boards as part of building cross-sectoral partnerships between nonprofit organizations and the communities they serve. Cross-sectoral partnerships involve various community organizations and members from multiple sectors to collectively focus their expertise and resources to address complex issues of importance to a community (Chandra et al., 2017).