A Guide to Becoming a New Board Member

BoardStrong wants to help you serve on a nonprofit board. It is important to learn about what is involved in board service and find an organization that is dedicated to a cause that is personally meaningful.

Read on to learn about:

  1. Perceived Barriers to Board Service
  2. Determining Your Ability to Commit to Board Service
  3. Identifying and Assessing Board Opportunities
  4. Getting Involved

Perceived Barriers to Board Service

Organizations in search of board members often find it difficult to encourage individuals to serve. The hesitancy of many potential board members are based on inaccurate perceptions. Many of the individuals nonprofits want on their board leadership team are the very people who don’t see themselves as “traditional board material.” Nonprofit boards are most effective when the individuals gathered around the table are diverse in age, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, cultural background and socio-economic status. A board should represent the diverse community served by the nonprofit. The best ideas and decisions come from a board that can view a situation from many angles and perspectives.

Another perceived barrier is the idea that a board member needs to make a substantial personal donation to the organuzation in order to continue serving on the board. In fact, many nonprofit boards do not have a minimum donation amount required from board members; in these cases, members are often encouraged to make a personally significant contribution of their choosing, or to aid in fundraising.

Determining Your Ability to Commit to Board Service

Complete a Course
BoardStrong offers a 45-minute online course called Good Practices for Good Boards because we want to ensure you understand the responsibilities of board membership and differences between joining a board and other volunteer opportunities. You can find this free course within BoardStrong’s matching community at boardstrong.force.com.

Define Your Interests and Skills
After completing the course, add your interests and skills to your BoardStrong profile. You are most likely to find a good fit if you think about the type of commitment you want to make in advance and the unique experience you bring to the board table. Additionally, when you add your interests and skilks our algorithm will provide suggested matches for nonprofits that may be looking for candidates like you.

Identifying and Assessing Board Opportunities

BoardStrong makes it easy to connect with nonprofits looking for board members. After you indicate interest in a board opening, a representative from the organization, typically a chief executive or board member, may get in touch with you to propose a meeting if they would like to move forward with your candidacy. If your profile is set to Public, you may also receive messages from nonprofits encouraging you to apply to an open board position. Make sure to be prepared. Look at the organization’s website, social media and guidestar.org to learn the following:

  • The organization’s mission, history, main programs and services and accomplishments
  • Names and backgrounds of staff and board leadership
  • Financial data about sources of revenue and expenses from IRS Form 990

Learn about Expectations, the Organization and the Board
Meet leaders to learn more about the organization and expectations for board members. You will want to talk with at least one board member in a leadership position and the chief executive. Here are some of the questions you may want to ask:

  • What are key issues that will affect the organization’s work in the next 2-3 years?
  • What types of skills does the organization need from new board members?
  • What type of commitment is needed for a board member to be valuable and supportive?

You should also know about:

  • Committee participation (what are these and on which might you serve)
  • Monthly time commitment
  • Required financial, fundraising and other contributions
  • How does leadership think you can be most helpful?
  • What makes for a successful director?
  • What are some common characteristics of high-performing board members?
  • How will leaders help you become an effective director? Will you be partnered with another board member or are there other resources for ‘learning the ropes’?
  • Does the organization carry Directors & Officer’s Insurance? Has there been a need to file a claim recently and if so, have any concerns been addressed?
  • What else does leadership think that all prospective board members should know?

Many organizations prepare orientation packages for new board members. At the very minimum, you should see a list of board requirements or a complete board member job description and a calendar of meetings and events.

Here are other items to assess:

  • A Strategic Plan – Review it to learn more about the organizational direction and ask about important internal or environmental changes since the plan was adopted.
  • Audits or audit letters – Learn more about the organization’s financial condition and any issues raised by the auditors.
  • An Annual Report – A recap of the prior year; some organizations post these on their websites, but smaller organizations might not have annual reports.
  • By-Laws – These will provide basic information about board composition, operations and structure.

Getting Involved

Once you have gotten to the point where you have been provided with organizational background material and met with one or more organizational leaders, you may be invited to join the board, or a committee. If the organization this is a good fit for you, go ahead and join – just make sure you are clear about all of your responsibilities. Then be prepared to jump in. Some organizations are complex and you will want to take advantage of opportunities for formal and informal orientation sessions, attending events, and meeting other board members. By participating in a variety of activities, you will meet many people associated with the organization, enjoy being involved and learn and contribute more quickly.

Alternatively, Continue Your Search
There is no obligation for you to join a board through BoardStrong or for organization representatives to move ahead with candidates they find through our site. Your situation may change or the organization that you applied to may find that their board needs have evolved. In these instances, we ask that you (and the organization representative) communicate any concerns quickly and politely. And we do hope that you will continue to look for other suitable options on BoardStrong.

 

Sources:
Adelphi University Center for Nonprofit Leadership, What You Need to Know BEFORE
You Serve on a Board. Available at: http://www.adelphi.edu
BoardSource, Board Basics 101, Thinking About Joining a Nonprofit Board. Available
at http://www.boardsource.org
BoardSource, Questions to Ask Organizational Leaders as a Prospective Board
Candidate. Available at http://www.boardsource.org
NYC Nonprofit Assistance, Capacity Building Resource Guide for Nonprofit Partners,
Candidate Interview Questions and Board Handbook Contents. Available at
http://www.nycservice.gov