Being a nonprofit board member is a big job. There are a lot of roles and responsibilities to understand before you even attend your first meeting.
To help educate both new and experienced board members, we posed a number of important and frequently asked questions to Dr. Alicia Schatteman, the Acting Director at Northern Illinois University's Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies and one of the wonderful facilitators for our Board Excellence Program on August 24.
Q: What is the top thing I need to understand before I commit to being part of a nonprofit board?
A: Do your skills, interests, and availability match what the organization needs right now? The board president and most senior staff person should be able to articulate this to you before you join the board. Organizations needs different board members at different times and for different reasons. A good match makes all the difference.
Q: How do we recruit new board members?
A: Start with a profile of what kind of board member the organization needs, for example experience with capital campaigns or hiring the first executive director, then ask for recommendations in your community of people who match that profile. Think outside of traditional networks of your existing board members, keeping in mind that you are looking for a board that is representative of your community’s demographics and commitment to the mission. Identify prospective board members and then find people who are connected to them to make the introduction.
Q: Is it okay if the Executive Director is also part of the board?
A: Typically it is best if the Executive Director is not part of the board since there are obvious conflicts of interest, such as performance evaluations and salary decisions. Some nonprofit boards have the Executive Director as an ex-officio (non-voting) member. Since there is not really a strong reason to have the ED on the board, I would suggest don’t do it.
Q: How much do I need to know about the day-to-day activities of the organization as a board member?
A: If the organization has paid staff, the day-to-day operations are left up to the most senior staff person of the organization. Where it gets tricky is if the organization is all volunteer, and therefore the board may be more involved in the day-to-day operations. Otherwise, hire the right executive director and then get out of his/her way to run the organization you hired him/her to run.
Q: What should I do to prepare for each board meeting?
A: You need to have sufficient time and information to offer advice or make informed decisions during a board meeting. Therefore, the agenda should clearly state what discussions and decisions are under consideration and provide the necessary information. Ideally, board members should receive this information several days in advance to be fully prepared.
Q: Should I be connecting with all staff members of the organization or just the E.D.?
A: The board (collectively) is responsible for hiring, evaluating, firing the ED but certainly board members can engage in conversations with other staff members, to get to know them, to understand their roles, but they are only directed by the ED.
Q: I don’t like asking people for money. Do I have to participate in fundraising?
A: Asking for money is only one step in the fundraising process, so volunteer to get involved in the other four steps! Every board member should be engaged in at least one step in the process to grow a culture of philanthropy.
Q: If our nonprofit organization dissolves, am I responsible for debts?
A: The board collectively has the legal and fiduciary responsibility for the organization while they serve as board members. If the nonprofit cannot pay its creditors, the organization would first dissolve all assets (cash and physical assets) to pay any creditors. If there is still remaining debt, the nonprofit could declare bankruptcy as well.
A special thank you to Dr. Alicia Schatteman for sharing her wisdom with us.
To learn more about becoming a valuable board member for your nonprofit organization, register now for our Board Excellence Program on August 24!
Program & Outreach Director for VCMC