Eight questions to ask before becoming a board member

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by: Kelly Fliller

Serving on a non-profit board is a very rewarding opportunity but it doesn’t come without a time or financial commitment. And while it certainly looks good on a resume, that is NOT the reason you should do it. Being a board member requires hard work and making some tough decisions.

Before you decide to become an official board member, you should sit down with the executive director of the organization and ask questions. It’s also a good idea to interview the president of the board or another director to get a better idea of what’s expected from you.

Here are some important questions to ask:

  1. What is the organization’s mission?

One of the first things you should know before joining a board is the organization’s mission. If you aren’t passionate about the mission, you are wasting their time and yours. How can you advocate for something that doesn’t align with your personal values or interests? Sit down with the organization’s executive director before committing and have a thorough discussion about the mission. Talk to the staff and find out how they live their mission each day. Ask other board members about the culture of the organization and how it aligns with the mission. If you feel strongly about the cause and how the activities of the staff and board support that cause, then it could be a great fit for you.

  1. What is the meeting schedule?

Some boards meet once a month and some meet once a quarter; it all depends on the organization. Most boards have an attendance policy, outlining how many meetings a year you are allowed to miss and still be considered an active board member. Every board is different so it’s important that you understand the meeting schedule before committing. The expectation is that you will be an active member. The meetings usually require a quorum for voting purposes so attendance is very important.

  1. What are the other time obligations?

In addition to board meetings, you will most likely be required to serve on one or more committees. This is where you can take your industry knowledge and use it in your specific area of expertise, or maybe branch out and try something new. Whether it’s marketing, finance, resource development, event planning or one of the many other functions that make up the board as a whole, this is your time to decide where you can make the most impact.

  1. Is there a financial obligation/fundraising requirement?

You’ll want to ask if there is a financial obligation whether personally, or connected to your company. Also, be prepared to fundraise in some sort of capacity.

  1. What is the board term?

Different boards have different terms whether it’s one year, three years, five years, etc. You’ll want to check the terms and be sure you can commit to them.

  1. Is there a new board member package?

Some boards will provide you with a new board member package, filled with information on your responsibilities, financials, committees, etc. They may even set you up with one of the more experienced board members as a mentor. If this is not provided, ask to set up a meeting with the executive director or president of the board and have your list of questions ready.

  1. Is there a strategic plan in place?

Board members are responsible for providing strategic direction for the organization they serve. Where is the organization going? What are their short-term, mid-term and long-term goals and how do they plan on achieving them? How will you, as a board member, fit into this plan? When it’s time to review and revise the plan, a special committee is usually formed. This is a great way to really get involved as a board member and learn the ins and outs of the organization.

  1. What is the relationship between the board and staff?

How will the staff support the board and vice versa? It’s important to learn the role of each staff member and how they will help you with board and committee activities. You will most likely be working closely with staff members on committees and they will be your greatest source of support and information.

Being a board member and having the opportunity to really make a positive impact is a wonderful feeling. Choose an organization with a mission you’re passionate about and be sure you have what it takes to commit. It will be an extremely rewarding experience!

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