Three Questions to Ask About Serving on a Nonprofit Board…

| by Leslie Starsoneck

1.  First ask yourself:  Why am I considering serving?

  • I consider volunteer service on a non-profit board to be part of my vocation. 
  • Because of my passion for the cause.
  • I was invited by a friend or a colleague and am doing it as a favor.
  • I’m looking to build my resume and to make important professional connections. 
  • I’m being actively recruited by the organization’s leadership for my reputation or my skills.

Be honest with yourself and then make sure the organization knows the answer to this question. 

If done correctly, board service is a serious commitment of time, energy and expertise.  It should also be a terrifically rewarding experience for the board member.  In order to make sure it’s the right fit, there are lots of questions you should ask after that first one (and that the non profit should be prepared to answer) before you sign on. Here are just two.

2.  Ask the organization’s rep you are discussing your candidacy with:  How are Board Meetings organized and run?

Understanding a typical board meeting will give an important view into the organization and whether it’s the right fit for you. 

  • Who builds the agenda and what is typically on it?  
  • Is it a consent agenda or the too-popular practice of sitting through staff reports with little back and forth or engagement? 
  • Are committee reports an important vehicle for movement and board engagement?
  • How well attended are meetings and who usually shows up?
  • What is the board chair’s style? 

3.  Also ask: What is the policy on Board Giving?

  • If there aren’t any clear expectations, this may tell you that the organization or the board isn’t comfortable with the conversation, or, they may not understand the importance of board members choosing the organization as a destination for their charitable gifts.
  • If a potential donor contemplating a major gift to the organization asks whether board members are contributing personally to the organization and the answer is “I don’t know” or “they aren’t,” the chances of getting that gift will greatly diminish.   And for good reason.  Donors will wonder why the organizations’ own board members don’t deem the organization worthy of their charitable gifts.  And it typically puts the Executive Director in the difficult position of trying to explain his or her board’s lack of support. 
  • If there is a policy about board giving, good for the organization.  The next question is what it says, the level of compliance it enjoys and whether it’s a policy you can support and embrace. 
  • Some boards approach giving collectively and set an overall goal – sometimes a percentage of the fundraising goal for that year – but still maintain a requirement that each member make a gift.
  • More and more, boards are adopting a “give and get” policy whereby each member gives and raises a certain amount providing not only more flexibility in personal giving but also promoting fundraising by the board member.
  • Fundraising by board members is an equally important topic, but it’s an expansive topic for another time.   Whatever the role, a candid conversation that is infused into recruitment, orientation, and ongoing cultivation of board members is critical.

 

Let us know if we can help. 

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