Ten Steps Before Accepting a Nonprofit Board Position
A Post from James V. Toscano & Dania Toscano Miwa
What a wonderful tribute and honor to be asked to serve on the board of Directors of a nonprofit organization. Being part of governance of a group providing benefit to society is a unique privilege.
Nevertheless, boards have varying cultures, capacities and track records. Before acceptance, it may be wise to do some due diligence to ensure that you understand what you will be doing, what will be expected of you and how successful you will be. Here are ten things to do before accepting the invitation.
1. Read the last three annual reports and audits. Moreover, if some red flags go up, take a look at the 990s for these years. They are available on Guidestar. Then talk to the board treasurer and Executive Director.
2. Visit the organization’s headquarters. Meet the executives. Meet the people on the front lines of the organization, living the mission every day. Ask questions. Sense the mood, the culture. Walk around.
3. Sit down with the Chair and the Executive Director. Ask about the role of the board, what is expected of each member in terms of time, talent and treasure. Get specifics. (And by the way, please make sure to ask if the agency had Directors and Officers insurance.)
4. Ask what is expected or required for giving and soliciting gifts. Is there some board expectation of an amount “given or gotten?” What is the role of the board in fundraising? Do all members make a donation? What other things are expected in fundraising?
5. Meet other members of the Board. Ask what they think, feel, do in connection with the nonprofit. Determine if their descriptions match those of the Chair and Executive Director. Judge whether you “fit” with other board members and whether this is important.
6. Talk to board members and Executive Directors of similar agencies. What is the reputation of the agency asking you to join their board with their colleagues and competitors?
7. What has the media reported about the agency? How do they communicate about themselves? Ask for samples of agency newsletters and other publications. Check the online media morgues for information. Talk to those covering nonprofits. Content analysis pays dividends: is it all about them or about those served?
8. Check the nonprofit’s rating by Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau, Charities Review Council and other rating agencies. All such classifications are incomplete, but may generate the questions that you might not ask without this reference.
9. Attend a board meeting, or two, before agreeing to serve on the board. The actual experience will speak volumes about all of the above steps.
10. Volunteer with the organization in another capacity. Join a committee, or help with an event for the organization to learn more about the culture, people involved and the dynamics. This can be very informative about the day-to-day operations and health of the organization.
Taking these steps will help ensure a successful tenure if you now feel you are willing to serve.
Keep in mind boards need innovation, invigoration and strong leadership. So even if all of the signs above are not to your liking, but you are committed to mission, you may be the best person to serve and change the direction of the board and, thus, the agency.