Anyone who knows me can tell you that I ask a LOT of questions related to whatever I commit to. Serving on a nonprofit board was no different. Throughout the lifetime of my nonprofit career, I have served as board chair/officer/member, founder, staff, volunteer, and consultant. With this 360-degree view of nonprofits, I developed the list of questions below to help myself and others thoughtfully consider board service.
BEFORE You Join the Board, Ask YOURSELF:
1. Why do I want to serve?
2. Am I ready to serve?
3. What do I want my legacy of service to be?
There is a BIG difference between serving on a board and sitting on a board. Regardless of your motivations to be on a board (social connection, intrinsic value, career development, etc.) you MUST be actively engaged and informed in your work – i.e. ready to serve and be a steward of your agency. Thinking through what talents you have or want to develop to bring to the boardroom, and if you can provide the level of commitment expected of you is a crucial piece to consider before you ever step foot in the boardroom. Consideration of your passion for the mission can also help drive your decision and your motivation if you decide to accept the honor and challenge of being a nonprofit board member.
BEFORE You Join the Board, Ask the AGENCY:
4. What does the board/staff partnership look like?
5. What financial and governance policies exist to help you meet your mission?
6. What do you expect of me (time, talent and treasure)?
7. How would you describe your board culture?
The relationships between board and staff, fellow board members and the community at large can tell you a LOT about a nonprofit agency. If any of those relationships are tenuous, the mission work may be hindered. Knowing what the leadership sees as their biggest challenge(s) will also be useful as you delve into the policies and procedures that govern an agency – especially as you review the bylaws, strategic plan, financials, board meeting minutes, etc. – all which inform you of the agency’s work. Find out up front if there are clearly laid out expectations (job descriptions, board member commitments), what to expect once you’re a member of a board and be informed before you join.
You’re On the Board, NOW WHAT?
8. How well do we achieve our mission work?
9. What other questions do I have?
Being an informed and engaged board member means knowing where your financial state stands, how your mission services are doing and how you can continue to learn more about your mission work. It also means providing strategic direction – which comes from understanding where you currently are. Nonprofits are PUBLIC charities and as such should be transparent. Be sure to ask any questions that you might have about details that raise flags for you – as often as those flags or questions come up.
Board Service COMPLETE
10. What did I learn?
11. How can I continue to help this mission?
While many of us may feel the desire to do a happy dance or breathe a huge sigh of relief as we exit a board this is a crucial moment to reflect on your role. Chances are you’ll be asked to serve on this or another board again. Thinking about what you learned from the experience and deciding how (if) you want to continue to help the agency further their mission now you’re no longer leading as a board member will be helpful. Board service is truly a labor of love, often times more labor than love – if you’ve made (and survived!) that commitment take some time to reflect on your legacy and celebrate your service!
Interested in learning more about board governance best practices? Visit these useful resources:
Original publication on Gulf Coast Community Foundation website.