Choosing a Nonprofit Board

There are over a million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, most of which would be thrilled to have the talents of business people who bring experience, expertise, and fresh perspectives, as well as a willingness to contribute funds and make introductions to other potential supporters.  For many readers, the question for you is how to choose the board that will provide you with the most rewarding experience.

In my experience placing board candidates, which is a process…a journey for the candidate that takes a few months of thoughtfully exploring options, I find that most candidates consider the following in making their choices of boards:

  1. First and foremost, board candidates want to join boards where they can add value.  They want to understand where the organization is, have a sense of its greater potential, and how they as a candidate can be useful in helping to advance the organization.
  2. A passion for the mission.  From the outset of the search process, most candidates are not even aware of the realm of possibilities and are usually open and curious. The fact is that there are such vast options that have such an extraordinary combination of purposes that candidates will learn the most and enjoy the process by having an open mind.  Some of my favorite "matches" were of candidates to boards where the individuals didn’t even imagine such organizations could exist.  But your ultimate choice should be an organization where you are passionate and excited about the mission.  That will drive your energy and make the experience the most fun and rewarding.
  3. The caliber of the CEO of the organization.  Most candidates are rightfully concerned that the organization is well led and organized. 
  4. The caliber of the board leadership.  Although there are a few exceptions who see themselves as turn-around artists, most board candidates are more interested in joining boards where there is a good board chair who works in partnership with the CEO to lead the organization and the board.
  5. Clear expectations.  Board candidates want to know how many board meetings they are expected to attend and the financial contribution that is required.  A red flag is a board that is asking new board members for financial contributions, while current board members are not already making that level of contribution.

The bottom line for boards is that if you seek to attract qualified new candidates, it is a competitive market, and it helps to get your house in order.


And my advice to candidates is two-fold: 


  1. Go in with your eyes wide open.  Know what you are getting in for by learning about the organization – meet the CEO and the board chair; learn about the budget and revenue model which will reveal the organization’s strengths and weaknesses; find out who is on the board; and find out what is expected of you.
  2. Don’t necessarily shy away from an organization that has challenges.  That’s why they need you.  That’s where you can add value.  (and possibly you can help in attracting some colleagues onto the board to help strengthen it)

Board service is one of the most valuable, compelling forms of service for people who have business skills to offer….now more than ever!

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