Are You Ready for a Nonprofit Board?

February 8th, 2011 by Alice Korngold

Having the time and energy is only part of the equation. Here are 10 questions to consider when debating serving on a board.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

I'm an activist when it comes to recruiting talented people to serve on nonprofit boards. My friends know that when I leave a party, a few people might be on a new path that will lead to their joining nonprofit boards. Only because I so often meet amazing people who are interested in boards but don't quite know what a board does, what will be expected of them, or how to find the right board that fits their interests and where they can add value.

Some of you might be wondering whether and when it's the right time to join a board. If you're thinking about serving on a board, here are ten questions to consider:

  1. Are you interested in advancing a cause that you can feel passionate about? Something that will be personally meaningful?
  2. Are you fairly patient and collegial in working in a team?
  3. Are you interested in a new environment and experience to further develop yourself as a leader?
  4. Are you interested in meeting people outside of your usual professional and social circles--perhaps people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives?
  5. Are you curious to delve into and learn about issues facing your community and the world?
  6. Could you carve out about 4-6 hours a month to devote to board work?
  7. If you really believed in a cause, could you see yourself contributing several thousand dollars or more?
  8. Can you imagine yourself asking others to contribute financially to a cause that you are passionate about--one where you've contributed yourself?
  9. Do you seek to be a role model to others in your family?
  10. Do you have skills that would be useful to a board of directors--for example, expertise in the organization's field of work, strategic planning, finance, accounting, law, organizational development, business development, entrepreneurship, public relations, marketing, human resources?

If you responded "Yes" to most of the questions, you're probably ready. If not, then there are other ways to contribute meaningfully--as a volunteer and as a donor. Volunteers are needed for a vast range of activities, from one-day team projects, to tutoring and mentoring (check out VolunteerMatch.org), to strategic planning and other business projects (check out TapRoot.org). For those of you who want to make financial contributions, GlobalGiving.org has many options.

Finding a board is a fairly complex process that involves your considering areas of interest, organizations that might interest you, and a bit of research about the challenges and opportunities facing organizations in which you are interested. If you ask friends and colleagues about boards that they serve on, you will get a real insider's look at those boards, as well as potential entrée. It's vital to go in with your eyes wide open when you join a board. You will be on the board to add value, but you do want to know what the organization's key issues are in advance, as well as the state of the finances, the caliber of the CEO and board chair, and a sense of the board culture. 

At the end of a four-month process of exploring and discussing boards and options, when he was making his final decision about the board of his choice, one of my corporate clients gave a long sigh and said, "Wow. This is like a process of self-discovery." Incidentally, between the final choice of a global, national, or local board, he chose the local board--where his family could participate too and he could see the impact. It's three years later, he and his firm have added great value to the nonprofit, and he's thrilled with his decision.

Nonprofit board service is high-impact. You can bring valuable skills to help advance an organization that addresses vital community needs. And as a board member, you will have the ultimate experience in ethics, accountability, leadership, group dynamics, and crisis management and communications.