Serving on the board of a nonprofit is a whole new way to engage and interact with your own community. It’s also a great way to help you do a lot of good for others. While it is always an honor to be asked to serve on a board, ask and consider some first. When you’re thinking of joining a nonprofit board, here’s what to ask the leadership (and why the answers matter).
You need to know how long the average tenure or time of service is. A board position is a serious commitment and you should have some indication of how long you will serve before you decide. It is difficult to be on a board with constant turnover. It can be equally challenging to serve a board whose members have been there since you were born!
Knowing who the other board members are and how many of them are currently seated gives you an idea of what to expect. It’s also a helpful frame of reference about the personalities you will encounter. A meet-and-greet would help you get a sense of the current feel and pacing of the board and let you know if you will be a good fit. Keep an eye out for any bad mojo among board members! You definitely don’t want to end up joining a nonprofit board with infighting and negative attitudes.
Of course, this shouldn’t be your primary motivation, but board positions are an outstanding way to network. Knowing which organizations or personalities are currently on or connected with the board can help you determine what professional benefits there are to serving.
You should know about any current or pending litigation or ongoing concerns. While a lawsuit does not mean that the brand did anything wrong or that you will be impacted, you should go in to the position knowing what to expect. You should also ask about insurance and liability coverage at this time. This will protect you personally from legal action in the future.
In addition to knowing the duration of the actual term, you should also know about meetings, networking events, fundraising, committee meetings, and other participation expectations. This will help you determine if you truly have the time to commit to joining a nonprofit board.
Organizations vary, but some ask board members to fulfill a minimum donation or contribution each year. You should be aware of the amount you are required to give, along with any personal fundraising tasks you will be asked to perform. It is also a good idea to ask about any fundraising support the nonprofit provides. Ideally, they will supply board members with plenty of ideas, training, and marketing material to help them be successful at fundraising.
Learning about that homeless shelter, animal rescue or education initiative is one thing, but actually visiting and engaging is another. When you take the time to visit and meet with the volunteers, clients and staff, you’ll get a much better idea of the mission and how the brand serves your community.
Most organizations have a mix of federal, local and grant money, along with donations and support from private companies and individuals. Knowing where the non-profit gets its funding (and what happens if that funding dries up) ensures you can commit with confidence. Be wary of organizations who rely heavily on one source of funding. This can be a warning sign of poor leadership, and may impact your decision.
An understanding of where funds are being spent is important to verifying the integrity of an organization. Watch out for large amounts of money going to privately owned companies for unclear reasons. This could indicate board members favoring businesses they have a stake in, or at worst, criminal activity. You also may want to confirm what percentage of funding goes to the clients being served. You might not feel good about a nonprofit that pays its executive director an exorbitant salary and only commits a small fraction to its mission.
Before you agree to serve on a board, you should know the answers to each of the above questions. In most cases, there is no one right answer, but knowing what to expect can help you decide if you are ready to invest several years of your time into serving the brand in question.
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