When interviewing a prospective board member, there=s a tendency to focus only on the obvious: expertise, experience, and interest in serving on the board. But don’t stop there. Use these 10 “more” questions to find the best board members for your organization, and start a relationship that is durable, motivating, and productive.

1. How passionate are you about our cause?

Passion is the driver when it comes to asking others for money, being an ambassador in the community, or being an effective advocate.

2. How much time can you give us?

This is critical. Don’t make the mistake of just assuming that the individual, when confirmed, will make the time you need. While some board members may be enlisted because they offer a connection or a presence that could be more valuable than time, most are enlisted to serve – and that requires time.

3. What motivates you as a volunteer?

You are trying to match board nominees to the culture and practices of your organization -- be sure yours is an environment in which the candidate will be motivated. Find out what will keep this person engaged over years of board service.

4. What expectations do you have from the management on whose boards you serve?

Expectations can be as small as wanting to receive board materials at least a week before meetings, or as big as only want to serve on boards of financially stable organizations. If the candidate’s expectations are unrealistic or don’t align with where your organization is now, it’s best to find that out during the recruitment process.

5. What personal aspirations will be enhanced by service on our board?

Some board members view board service as a way to gain connections and experience that will advance their careers. Others are looking to make career changes, acquire new skills, or learn more about the nonprofit sector. To meet these needs, you must learn what they are, and keep them in mind during the member’s term of service. In this way, you will encourage the person’s growth and participation, and deepen his or her commitment to and appreciation for the organization.

6. What professional or personal constraints on your time or service might you anticipate?

The people we want are often the same people everyone else wants to recruit. They may already serve on other boards or have demanding jobs. This creates constraints on both their time and their attention. When you know about these constraints, you can decide whether to enlist the candidate anyway, or delay enlistment until he or she can give your organization a higher priority.

7. Are you willing to make a financial commitment that is a stretch?

What is a stretch? It’s a gift that represents an intent and a connection that is deeper than a gift a person might otherwise give. Let people know at the outset that you expect them to give at this level. If they use the “time is money” response, reconsider their appropriateness as a board member.

8. Of what importance to you is social interaction with other board members?

Some boards have a culture that encourages frequent opportunities for social interaction; other boards feel this is unimportant. This is another aspect of the “match.” A person who fails to attend board social events may never be fully embraced by the other board members. On the other hand, if a person is seeking a social experience, and your board’s culture is not social, there may be a problem.

9. How do you feel about performance evaluations of individual board members and boards as a group?

Board member (and full board) performance evaluations have become routine in many organizations. Your group may use self-evaluations or ones conducted by a third party. Some organizations have adopted the practice of having the CEO and the board chair meet annually with each board member to thank them for their service, review their concerns, find out their committee or project preferences, and ask for their gift. Whatever your review process, tell the candidate about it, explore their knowledge of the process, and listen for objections. 

10. As you think about the three primary board roles - ambassador, advocate, and asker, in which role(s) do you think you will want to be most active?

This is the “capstone” question – it allows potential board members to see how you have organized board involvement, and where they fit in. It opens their imagination to ways they can serve that mesh with their own goals and motivations, and best use their experience and contacts. With this delineation, you offer many ways to get involved, though an ideal board member will probably be able to fill all three roles.

The material in this publication is based on work supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration under cooperative agreement SBAHG-04-S-0001. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Updated May 2006
George Hannye

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