I’ve been asked many times to serve on boards of nonprofit organizations. As the former Executive Director of a nonprofit organization with a working board (and I use the term ‘working’ very loosely), I weigh this decision very carefully. My decision is based on three things:
- Does this organization have a mission that I’m passionate about?
- Does the organization currently have a well-functioning board?
- Do I have the ability to truly give of my time, treasure AND talent, according to both their expectations and mine?
The first and third question can similarly be used to refer to the character of prospective board members, but it can be difficult to know if they are truly passionate or sincere about their willingness and ability to participate. There are ways to find out more about a person before nominating and voting them onto your board though. Here’s a quick list to help:
- Create a board member application. If someone can’t be bothered to take a whole ten minutes to fill out an app, then you just dodged a bullet from having to send them a “you’re fired from the board” letter they won’t bother to read.
- Ask how many working boards they’re currently serving. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the “one and only”: tell me you love me, and only me! I’d rather have a dedicated board member than one who’s representing multiple organizations.
- Ask them to tell you how they envision fundraising for your nonprofit. If they mention stroking a big, fat check (Did I just date myself? Okay: sending a big, fat Venmo??), introducing the organization to their influencer friends, or really any other plan, then you’ve found a gem! If they scrunch up their face and tell you they hate sales, they may not be board material.
- Show them a board matrix and ask them which boxes they fill: you may be surprised by their interests and experience. You may be thinking, “Oh, great, another realtor!”, when in reality you’ve just found your ultimate party planner or slick grant writer.
- Find out what their normal weekly schedule is like. If they are just crazy busy 24/7, then voting them onto the board may be the last time you see their fabulous face. Some of the best board members I’ve ever seen were stay-at-home parents, retirees, spouses of high-level professionals, and students.
And what about that second question, does the organization currently have a well-functioning board? Just as important as finding awesome board members is the impression your organization makes on them. Here are some things to take a look at internally to ensure your organization is attractive to potential board members:
- Are your board meetings well-attended and begin and end on time? Are decisions being made at the meeting? What does the room feel like? Is there a lot of respect, professionalism, passion, energy and enthusiasm? No one wants to join board meetings where John talks for 30 minutes about his latest fishing trip and Sally, Peter, and Karen never look up from their phones.
- Does the organization provide documented board roles and responsibilities to prospective board members? Many organizations either don’t have these items, or don’t share them until after a person is voted onto the board. Surprise!
- Who is the organization’s staff comprised of and what is the turnover rate? Employees coming and going each year is a bad sign to board members. Equally off-putting are long-term employees who are inefficient or complacent.
- Does your organization have general liability insurance AND an Officers and Directors policy? If the answer to these is no, any truly worthy board member just cringed and backed away!
- What are your events like? Can you find any board members while you’re there? Are they identifiable as members of the org? Are they shaking hands and introducing themselves to attendees and talking about the organization? One sign of an outstanding organization is one where board members show up with pride.
While the goal is to have a fabulous, functional working board, your organization must be worthy of such dedication. It’s as important to work on your organizational development as it is to create the best board possible – they feed into one another. Ultimately, the dream is to have a pipeline of willing community members waiting to jump at the opportunity to fill a seat on your board. Happy hunting!
About the Author
Jennifer E. Goldman established Resonance, LLC, a management consulting firm, on April Fools’ Day 2015 – no joke! Once a Main Street Manager in Tiny Town, Virginia, the nonprofit world never left her mind even though she moved on to greener pastures – pun intended. She derives great joy from using her Business Management education and Nonprofit Management experience to coach organizational leaders to run their nonprofits like a business. Jennifer is a Certified Nonprofit Manager, an Accredited Small Business Consultant and a Certified Tourism Ambassador – her mother is proud.