Guidelines for 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.
These guidelines are designed to help. They provide information about:
- Determining Your Ability to Commit to Board Service
- Identifying and Assessing Board Opportunities
- Getting Involved
Part 1: Determining Your Ability to Commit to Board Service
Complete an Online Course on Board Service
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. The course, like the rest of our services, is free.
Define Your Interests
After completing the course, you are able to search BoardStrong’s database and create an application so that you can apply for boards that interest you. You are most likely to find a fit if you think about the type of commitment you want to make in advance.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Why do you want to be on a nonprofit board now?
- Why do you want to contribute in this way, rather than as a program or event volunteer?
- What are the key skills and experiences that you want to bring to an organization?
- What type of missions and programs interest you most?
- Do you have a personal connection to specific causes?
- Do you want to serve an organization that offers direct services and programs or are you more interested in advocacy or research?
- What organizational stage appeals to you?
- Do you think you will enjoy working with a start-up, a more established organization, or do you like the challenge of a turnaround?
- How much time do you have available and at what times of day?
- Do you expect your availability to change?
- What locations suit you? Is it important to have meetings near work or home?
- How much of an annual contribution could you make and are there doors to other potential funding sources you might open?
Create an Application for Board Service and Search for Opportunities on BoardStrong
Once you have answered these questions, you can create an application on onBOARD by uploading your resume and answering several questions about your availability and preferences related to board service. You also should review opportunities that have already been posted on onBOARD by nonprofit organizations and submit your application to any that are of interest. If you do not see opportunities to which you want to apply, you can create an “Alert” so that you receive an e-mail when new opportunities are listed.
Part 2: Identifying and Assessing Board Opportunities
Do Your Homework
After you apply, 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. Make sure to be prepared. Look at the organization’s website, social media and http://www.guidestar.org (a website with financial and other information about the majority of U.S. nonprofits) 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?
- Committee participation (what are these and on which might you serve)
- Monthly time commitment
- Required financial, fundraising and other contributions
- What made your profile appealing to the organization?
- How does leadership think you can be most helpful?
- What makes for a successful director?
- How is this defined and 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?
Note that many organizations prepare orientation packages for new board members, but you will learn a lot by reading some items in advance of joining. At the very minimum, you should see any list of board requirements/board member job description and a calendar of meetings and events.
These other items would also be very helpful:
- 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.
- 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.
Part 3: 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. And, if 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.
Or, Continuing 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.
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
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
Youth, I.N.C. “Get on Board Webinar”, September 18, 2014.