You’ve been asked to sit on a Board by a colleague or peer recently, or you may already sit on a few Boards already. Have you felt like all you’ve been asked for is to donate more money or has the experience seemed less fulfilling than you’ve expected? Generally, this can be solved, or avoided by proper Board orientation and training, and if the nonprofit you’re involved with hasn’t suggested this, here are a few points to bring up with your point of contact:
- What expectations will there be of me as a Board member? Sounds simple, but by simply voicing it, you signal to your nonprofit that you expect to be more than a checkbook, and that the nonprofit should be providing additional information to create a robust experience.
- How can I experience the mission of your organization? You may already be moved by the nonprofit’s mission from previous experience as a client, but regardless this question will help you understand exactly what the nonprofit does and how it affects its clients or service recipients, which might be slightly different than what you expected. Ask for a site visit, and to speak directly with the program team. Perhaps ask to arrange to sit in on a client meeting, or shadow the doctor, teacher, or researcher for the organization. In our experience, the Board members that directly experience the mission of the organization become the strongest allies – they are the most comfortable to speak about the organization, since they have had first- hand experience seeing it in action, and they feel even more passionately about the organization.
- Will someone be walking me through the organization’s financials and plans? It seems like many Board members are lucky if they’re even shared a copy of a 990 from two or three years ago before joining, but the most effective way to become familiar with the ins and outs of an organization is by walking through the current and projected financials with a staff member. Not only can they provide an impromptu training on how to read the financials (particularly if you’re not comfortable with them and don’t want to admit to not knowing how to read the nonprofit’s financials), but they’ll also provide context that will share the organization’s direction, growth areas, and potential threats.
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