Questions you need to get answered before asking people to join your board

Last week we started a series of blog posts focused on the art of asking questions, and this theme has carried over into this week. So far, we’ve looked at questions that executive directors should be asking themselves and their boards. We’ve also looked at questions board members should be ask of themselves and their fellow board volunteers. Today, we’re continuing this series of posts by looking at powerful questions that need to be asked of prospective new board members before they are asked to join your board of directors.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a million times when it comes to non-profit board organizations’ board recruitment processes:

  • a bunch of people who look and sound alike sitting around a table;
  • pulling names of people out of the air (or out of their iPhone) based upon who might say ‘YES’ to serving on the board;
  • sitting down with a prospective new board volunteer and “arm twisting;”
  • telling the prospective new board volunteer a series of half-truths (e.g. it is only one meeting per month, do whatever you can to help, etc); and,
  • not following the written board recruitment procedures in the agency’s board development plan.

I like to think of board development as a process by which you need to decide who is going to be in the foxhole (aka the trenches) with you for the mother of all wars. (A bit dramatic? Probably, but work with me here.)

You don’t need a boardroom full of warm bodies because an eight person board is no different from a 20 person board if no one understands their roles and responsibilities and everyone is disengaged. If you find yourself nodding your head at this statement, then you understand that your board development process needs to ask more questions and do more listening than it does talking, selling, and arm twisting.

Finding answers to the following questions BEFORE asking someone to join your board of directors will save you months (probably years) of difficulty:

  • Do they “realistically” have the time to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities as members of your board of directors? (Heck, do they understand those fiduciary responsibilities?)
  • What inspires them about your mission that they are willing to jump in a foxhole with you? How have they demonstrated that passion in the past?
  • What gaps do they help fill on your board of directors (e.g. gender, occupational, age, ethnicity, social network, various fundraising skill sets, etc)?
  • Does their vision for the agency align well with the organizations current vision and strategic goals?
  • Are they willing to give AND are they willing to get? And do they really do they have a clear picture of what that means?
  • What are some of the key values they hold near and dear to their heart and how does that align with the agency’s core values?
  • Does the prospective board member’s personality mesh well with the existing group of board members?

You can get answers to these questions in a number of different ways. For example, get to know the prospective volunteer by either engaging them in other projects first or by building your board development process around the simple principle of “Getting to Know You. Getting to Know All About You.” You can also populate your board development committee with people who are knowledgable enough to answer some of these questions about people in their networks.  Finally, you can go out and talk to people who know them well.

This isn’t rocket science, but looking at how some non-profit organizations go about recruiting new board members you might think that it is.

By the way, as you start asking more questions as part of your board development process, you should probably know that those prospective board volunteers have lots of questions of their own. Our friend, Joanne Fritz at, does a nice job of outlining many of those questions in a blog post titled “Before You Serve on a Nonprofit Board“. I suggest that you click over and read what she has to say. You might want to build your board development process around answering those questions, too.

What does your board development process look like? How do your board development volunteers go about getting answers to key questions? What are some of the key questions to which you seek answers? Please use the comment box below to share some of your thoughts.

Tomorrow we will finish this long blog series with a post focusing on questions donors should be asking of the non-profit organizations they support. Please join the conversation.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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