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What to Ask When You’re Asked to Join a Nonprofit Board

You finally got the call. A nonprofit organization wants you to serve on their board of directors. While there are many ways to volunteer for an organization, serving on a board may be one of the most rewarding experiences. But having a board position comes with challenges. If this is your first rodeo, you may be awestruck into saying, “yes,” without hesitation. But to ensure the best experience possible, don’t be afraid to ask a few questions first.

Ask Yourself
Before you start asking questions of the nonprofit organization, you may want to ask a few questions of yourself.

Is this a cause you want to support? If you don’t have a passion for the nonprofit’s mission, programs and constituents they support, you won’t be an effective board member. Make sure you have an understanding of what the nonprofit does.

What do you hope to gain from this experience? Sure it’s about the organization’s mission, but you should feel rewarded personally. Whether you’re seeking new skills or networking opportunities be clear in your purpose. Make sure you have an understanding of why they want you on their board in the first place.

Boards Are Unique
Sure, nonprofit boards may look alike from a distance, but there are nuances. Know how the board is structured. Ask about board member job descriptions, committee responsibilities and the relationship of the staff to the board. Know about time commitments, if there’s a new member orientation or additional educational opportunities you’ll receive. You’ll also want to know who else is serving on the board.

We’re in the Money
Many boards operate as an additional fundraising arm of a nonprofit organization. First you need to know about the nonprofit’s financial health. Ask for their 1099, the latest financial reports and how often you’ll have access to this information. Several boards ask for a financial contribution from their board members, so you’ll have to factor the donation into consideration. Ask if you’re expected to help in fundraising; and ask about their major fundraising events and initiatives. You’ll also want to make sure the organization has directors and officers liability insurance, because when you sign onto a board you’re often taking personal responsibility for the organization.

If you don’t get the call to join a nonprofit board but you’re interested in giving your time in that way. Don’t hesitate to call your favorite nonprofit and ask about board opportunities. There’s a good chance you can get on the list.

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    LSA is a grantee of the Legal Services Corporation.