Editor’s Note: Want to lead a powerful nonprofit board? Don’t miss our two most popular resources, The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Board and The Only Board Contract You’ll Ever Need.
Let’s say your organization has identified a strong board prospect. You’ve taken some key next steps to further engage them in your mission and you’re ready to discuss board service. Congratulations! The stage you are in right now is a lot like being on a job interview, and you need to remember the old adage: interview them as much as they are interviewing you.
10 Questions to Ask a Prospective Board Member
So what kind of questions do you need to ask them? Here are 10 questions you can (and should) ask every prospective board member:
- What makes our mission meaningful to you?
- What are some of your prior board leadership experiences?
- What skills, connections, resources, and expertise do you have to offer and are willing to use on the behalf of the organization?
- Do you have any worries or concerns about joining the board?
- Do you have personal aspirations that could be enhanced by board service?
- How much time a month can you commit to meetings and serving the mission?
- What motivates you?
- What are your expectations from the management of the nonprofits where you’ve served as a board member?
- Are you willing to make a financial commitment that is a stretch?
- How important is socially interacting with other members?
5 Things They Should Be Asking You
By the same token, you should be prepared for your prospective board member to ask you some critical questions too! They may ask about the board’s weaknesses, what your expectations are, and what makes your organization unique. Below are some questions you want to be able to answer about the organization.
- Who is on the board now? How did they get there?
- How long are the terms? How many people are required for a quorum?
- What committees exist? Who is on them? Are they active?
- What do the financial statements look like? What is the annual operating budget? What are the top revenue streams and the largest expense categories? Is there a deficit? Does the organization have an annual audit and has it consistently been in good standing? Are there any outstanding legal issues going on with the agency?
- What are the responsibilities of board members? Is the board well staffed with an existing leadership who are eager and capable of moving into new leadership roles on the board?
As you interview the potential board members, elaborate upon the opportunity and rewards of service. Be genuine when you discuss the support board members receive. Don’t be tempted to downplay your expectations to recruit a noncommittal “big name” board member.
A Good Rule of Thumb: Try Before You Buy
While you may have taken the proper steps to vet potential members on the front end, there will be times when a board member simply isn’t the right fit. So you might want to try someone out before making the commitment. There are lots of meaningful ways for folks to leverage their engagement, support your organization and bring in more donors without occupying a board seat.
Traditionally, organizations have placed these individuals in a perpetual parking spot known as the “advisory board,” which is reserved for big name individuals who don’t have the willingness or capacity to serve on the board. Their names appear on the letterhead but other than receiving an annual report there is little interaction. Organizations are better served engaging with these individuals strategically to leverage their networks to widen the organization’s circle of friends. A great example of this is a Leadership Council where members commit to an annual gift amount of $2,000 and to bringing 25 individuals into the organization to experience its events or programs.
Another great solution is to test someone interested in board service with a committee role first, whether a short-term ad hoc committee or a standing committee. Both you and your committee member get to try-on service and make sure it’s a good fit for each of you before any appointment is made.
Are You Ready to Transform Your Board?
If so, here are two resources you won’t want to miss…
In The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Board, we unpack fifty tips, ideas, and tools any nonprofit leader can use to build a board you can be proud of. Our team has also created a sample nonprofit board contract that you can adapt to your organization’s unique needs.
Our hope is that both resources will not only help establish expectations, but equip your board members to play an active role in moving your organization forward with their unique gifts, knowledge, and abilities.