By Jennifer Olsen and Laura Doehle
Being asked to join a board of directors is an exciting opportunity. It means you want to contribute to your community and seek new professional development opportunities. Having served on multiple boards we know just how gratifying the experience can be. We also know that going into the experience without careful consideration is not in anyone’s best interest.
We’ve worked together to create a list of ten questions (five in this post, and five in our next post) in the hopes that we can help you identify and select the opportunity that’s right for you. You may already know the answers to some of the questions; however, we recommend interviewing several board members to learn more based on their varied perspectives.
- Are you clear about why you want to join the board and have you communicated that to the other members?
Before you join a board, you want to be clear about the reasons you want to join this particular board. When the reasons for membership—from both sides—are transparent, it’s more successful.
- How many members are on the board?
In theory, many hands make light work. As you consider joining a board of directors it’s important to understand how big it is, and how long the majority of the members have been on the board. Not only do you want to know how many members serve on the board, you’ll also want to ask questions which help you determine if member tenure supports continuity and continual improvement.In our experience it’s good to have people who stay on the board for a significant amount of time to help with organizational knowledge; however, you don’t want a situation in which everyone has been on the board forever. Organizations benefit from a planned process and balance of new recruits. If there are term limits, you want to confirm people are committed and stay through their term.
- What is the board looking for by having you join the board?
Some boards want a member solely for promotional purposes; they bring on prestigious members of the community for name recognition and fundraising opportunities. In other cases, a large amount of work will be required by a board member. Both types of board member roles are important and serve a purpose. Having clarity about your reason for joining will help prevent misunderstandings.
- How well do you align with the board president?
If you’re joining a board, it’s a good idea to assure that you’re aligned with that board president. Leaders have different expectations and what works for one leader in terms of time commitment, boundaries, or style may not work for another. If you’re an existing member and a new board president is elected, it’s a good idea to re-set and confirm expectations at the start of that president’s term.
- Is this an operational board or an advisory board?
There are different levels of board involvement, depending on the organization. When you’re reviewing a board prior to joining, it’s important to understand what type of board it is. We’ve both been on working boards that require 15 to 20 hours of work a week. And we’ve been on boards that require five hours a month. Be clear about your boundaries and makes sure those boundaries will work for the other board members.
- Will you have an active role with responsibilities and assignments? Or does the board serve solely in an advisory capacity to approve strategic plans and follow-up on execution?
- How much time will you be required to contribute?
- Are board members expected to be primary financial donors?
- How much fiduciary responsibility for the organization will you have?
Before you make a commitment, you need to clarify which type of board it is and what will be required of you.
Check back for our next post in which we’ll share the other five questions to consider before you accept a board assignment!