A primer for those new to nonprofit boards

Board Table

So, you have reached a point in your life where your support of an organization, your passion for a cause, or your professional position has resulted in an invitation to join a non-profit’s Board of Directors. The first question that might come to mind is, “What is expected of me?”  The next, more personal question might be, “What should I be looking for at this organization?”

What follows is a primer listing key questions for those considering joining a non-profit Board.

1. What should I be looking for at this organization?

  • What is the mission of the organization?  Does the mission of this organization fit with your core beliefs?  Who does the organization serve and is that important to me?
  • What are the organization’s programs?  Do the current programs relate to the mission?
  • Are the last three years of the organizations IRS form 990 available for your review?  Are there any financial red flags?  Remember, board members take on a fiduciary responsibility.
  • Is there are formal Board Structure?  If so, for how long?  Is a formal Board structure in place?  Are there bylaws, member expectations and a formal leadership structure?
  • Is the Board clear and consistent in defining their work?  Does the Board focus on strategic work or does it cross into areas that should be the responsibility of the staff?
  • Does the organization have a strategic plan?  Is the organization focused on the future and has it created a road map to arrive at its destination?
  • Is there a system of checks and balances to prevent conflict of interest between board members and the organization?
  • Does the organization have liability insurance that covers directors and administration?  In case something goes wrong, is the Board protected?

2. What is expected of me?

  • Are Board expectations clear?  Do you know what you are being asked to do?  Were you recruited with clear Board member expectations provided in writing?
  • Will there be any training provided for you?  What type of Board Development opportunities are available to you?
  • Can I meet fundraising expectations?  Is there an expectation to donate or get donations?  Will I be expected to attend fundraising events?
  • Can I be an advocate for the organization in the community?
  • How often are Board meeting and where and when are they held?  Will there be additional responsibilities to serve on Board sub-committees?  In order to be a good Board member you should be able to attend and participate in the most of the scheduled meetings.
  • What role will I play in soliciting donors?  Does the organization expect for me to deliver donors?  Directly fund raise?
  • Is the Board membership stable?  Has there been a history of Board members leaving before a completed term?

By asking and getting answers to these questions, you can better understand a prospective organizations mission, governance structure and expectations.  Armed with this information, you can make a good decision to accept a Board position or not.



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