I have the joy of ushering business executives and professionals in exploring a variety of nonprofit boards. Each candidate goes through a thoughtful process of sorting through the plethora of causes that interest them, including organizations that are at different stages—from start-up enterprises to century-old nonprofits.
When making their final choice, here are the six considerations that board candidates take most seriously:
- Am I excited about the mission? Is it meaningful enough to me to want to take time from my busy life, make a generous financial contribution, and ask my company to support my organization as well?
- Do I find the chief executive officer ("executive director") compelling—someone I am confident in and look forward to working with?
- Do I find the programs compelling? Are they achieving the work that the organization has set out to do? (and if the programs need to be enhanced or streamlined, do the chief executive and/or the board seem prepared to make that happen?)
- What is the revenue model, what are the challenges, and do the CEO and board seem prepared to address the challenges?
- Who are the board leaders, do they seem to have a handle on the key issues facing the organization, and are they prepared to galvanize the board to strengthen the organization—including financially?
- What value can I add, am I ready to do what they need from me, and...do I think that the CEO and board will actually engage me and appreciate what I can contribute?
Most board candidates consider the following to be deal-breakers: too big and stale of a board to allow new board members to truly engage, weak leadership at the CEO or board level, an obsolete board structure, weak board participation—in attendance and/or giving/fundraising, and revenue challenges that the leadership is unprepared to face.
Business people are most effective on boards when they have conducted a thoughtful search, made a meaningful choice, and been prepared to "make the translation." That's when the fun begins. A good nonprofit board experience leads to remarkable results for the board member, the board member's company, and the community.