Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Joining a Board – Some Questions to Ask

Suppose the telephone rings one day, with an invitation to join a nonprofit board. Your friend on the other end of the line is persuasive, and the offer sounds enticing. Do you leap at the chance and say yes?

As tempting as that may be, it’s a good idea to stop long enough to ask the recruiter – and yourself – some questions to determine whether the assignment and your interests are a good fit for everyone.

Some questions I would ask in that situation:

Do I support the organization’s mission? That’s question one. If the answer is no, there is no need to proceed. Hopefully, you are already quite familiar with the organization and its mission. Better yet, you’re downright enthusiastic about its work. But enthusiasm can grow. At minimum, you should be able to say you generally support what the nonprofit is working to accomplish.

What is expected of board members? Every board has certain essential governance responsibilities. How they go about accomplishing them, and what is expected above and beyond that bottom line will vary from group to group. How often do they meet, and when? What are the roles and focus areas of board committees? Are board members expected to be involved in fund-raising? What are the expectations of board members’ own giving? How do they describe the working environment? The leadership style? Be frank in asking yourself: am I able to meet those responsibilities, and can I thrive in this environment?

In what specific ways can I contribute? Is there a place for your skills and interests in service to the organization? Are there opportunities to develop new skills through governance work? How will the organization be stronger at the end of your term?

What kinds of support exist for board members? Ask about orientation for new members and opportunities for continuing education. Is there staff support for board work, or is the governing body expected to be fairly self sufficient? Is there a foundation for board success?

You may have other questions about the specific invitation to serve before you are ready to offer an answer. These questions, however, will give you a basic sense of whether or not that offer is one in which you can be effective and truly make a contribution.

What questions would you add to that list? Please add a comment and share your thoughts.

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