By Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD
Would you ever hire someone for a job without explaining his or her duties? Throughout my years of training boards, board members have often shared that they are told little of their roles and responsibilities, either before or after they join the board. Organizations need to be explicit with board member about what the job entails. Nonprofit board members need job descriptions!
During my twenty plus years of involvement with the nonprofit sector, I have had countless discussions with professional staff and lay leaders about the critical role of nonprofit boards and about the frustrations and the missed opportunities that occur when board members take a seat at the table and don’t do much else – or worse, distract the organization from its important work.
Since a nonprofit is only as effective as its board, why are we spending so little time clearly articulating what is means to be a board member and talking with prospective board members to make sure they are making an informed decision about joining?
These questions led me to write a guide for nonprofit board members, On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service. My motivation was to make crystal clear to present and potential board members the most important aspects of their roles, both in word and in practice. Their actions matter! Nonprofits need people not just to say “yes” and fill a seat but to understand what is expected of them and to commit to contributing their talents and passion.
Individuals being asked to serve on boards must see the position as an honor and a responsibility. They need to do their due diligence and make sure that serving on the board is a good fit for them. Here are key questions that prospective board members should ask before joining a board. Leadership development or nominating committees may consider making these questions available to prospective members and using them as a guide to draft information for board members to fully understand what is expected.
Do You Know Enough About the Organization and Does Its Work Speak to Your Heart?
- Does the mission speak to you?
- Do you share the vision of the organization?
- Have you toured the organization?
- Are you familiar with the programs or services?
- Have you met those served?
- Do you care about this organization beyond “What’s in it for me?”
Does Serving on this Particular Board Feel Exciting?
- Have you met the other board members?
- How big is the board? Who is the current or incoming chair? What is the committee structure?
- Will your skills and talents be leveraged by the board? How?
Can You – and Do You Want to – Fulfill What is Expected of You as a Board Member of this Organization?
- What are board members’ roles and responsibilities?
- Do you have a policy of “give, get, or get off?”
- Do you feel like you want to give money to this organization?
- Are you willing to ask others to give money to this organization?
- Do you feel like you could be an ambassador for the organization and its mission?
- Does serving on this board pose any conflict of interests for you?
- What training do new board members receive?
Do the Time, Timing and Logistics of Serving Work for You?
- How long is the term, and do you have term limits?
- What is the time commitment for board members?
- How often and when does the board meet?
- In general, how long are meetings?
- Can I participate via tele- or video conference during meetings?
- Are there any board retreats or other special sessions?
As a society and specifically as a Jewish community, we have too many important issues to tackle – and so many people who depend on our services and are enriched by our programs – to waste a moment or an opportunity. Our nonprofits must take board selection, management and development seriously.
Board needs to be clear about what they expect from their members and in turn, members need to honestly assess if they are willing and able to carry out the board duties. If board members join the board with intentionality and clarity of their roles, our boards will be stronger and our organizations will be more effective, efficient and impactful.
Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” Nanette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.