3 Questions You Should Ask Before Joining a Nonprofit Board

Questions to Ask Before Joining a Nonprofit BoardSo you’ve been asked to join the board of a nonprofit organization or professional association.

Feeling flattered?

You should.

It means you could make a real contribution to the greater good in your world.

Feeling uncertain?

Probably wise.

Here are three starter questions to ask yourself and the organization’s leadership before you commit.

Question #1: What’s the Structure?

“Is it a governing board or an administrative board?”

A governing board convenes to make high-level decisions as a collective body, but its members are generally free of further volunteer obligations. This is often the cases with larger institutions who have enough professional staff to carry out the organization’s mission day-to-day.

An administrative board governs, but also carries a considerable obligation to do volunteer work, sometimes as many as 10-20 hours a week or more. This board is more common in smaller institutions where volunteer committees—led by board members in their areas of expertise (development, marketing, operations, etc) take on the work of nonexistent full-time staff that the organization can’t afford.

Question #2: What is the financial and time commitment?

Many organizations have a give-or-get policy, and an increasing number expect both, in addition to considerable work obligations (committee leadership, volunteer recruiting and leadership, and more).

The “give” part means you commit to an annual financial obligation, whether you give it from your pocketbook. The “get” part means you commit to raising money from friends, colleagues, and beyond.

“Give or get” usually means a hybrid of both, where you commit to a certain amount, no matter how you reach the goal.

Some organizations ask for a commitment that matches a percentage of a board member’s income.

Question #3: What are the term limits?

A sure sign of structural problems—and potential for major headaches for you later—is a lack of term limits.

Also, are the term limits for everyone?

I once saw a board struggling with significant internal management problems wise up and institute term limits. The only problem—and it indicated a much deeper institutional challenge—was that the existing board members voted term limits for new members only.

Legacy board members were granted lifetime positions.

What was at first, perhaps, a compromise to gain consensus became a recipe for more serious future problems.

My advice:

You will ultimately need to weigh the mission of the organization against your values, ability to make financial obligations, and threshold for contributing time and energy, but here is my suggestion for finding the best match for you:

Governing boards with a “give” or “give or get” policy and little to no expectation for extra volunteering are well-suited for a professional working full time, particularly as that person hits mid-career and holds greater career accountability and professional risk.

Administrative boards with a “give and/or get” policy and a considerable volunteer commitment are best for people who are on sabbatical, who are retired, or who are otherwise not bound by full time work obligations.

So will it be a match? 

Serving on a nonprofit board of directors can be the reward of a lifetime. Just be sure to set the right expectations and know what you’re signing up for, and you’ll have a strongest chance at a match.


“Before You Join That Board,” Shelly Banjo, The Wall Street Journal
If you’re serious about joining a nonprofit board, the Wall Street Journal published a great article, list of statistics, and interview checklist.

“Before You Serve on a Nonprofit Board,” Joanne Fritz, About.com Guide
More good questions and resources to ask before you commit.

A great matchmaking website for people seeking a nonprofit board position.

Until next time!

Jared Redick

Visit: The Resume Studio.com
Follow: @TheResumeStudio
Connect: LinkedIn.com/in/jaredredick
Call: 415-397-6640

One Response

  1. Excellent advice. Concise and insightful! Thank you!

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