Friday, June 26, 2015

Joining a Board: Questions to Ask

Ever been on a Board? Not the fancy corporate kind, but the common small organizations run as nonprofits and associations? It can be a rewarding experience- learning and using business skills, making contacts and working with a new set of people, furthering the organization’s mission from a strategy and tactical perch. 

It can also be a major time commitment, usually unpaid! 
Aside from meetings and subcommittee meetings and assignments related to core membership duties, Board members (especially officers) are often pulled into day-to-day management activity. Best case, the org has a strong management company in place or an effective Executive Director. The Board will provide oversight, conduct transitions and monitor progress. Worst case (yet quite common) the management function is dysfunctional, and Board members may need to run daily operations, conduct accounting and payments, answer the mail, coordinate Board and staff activity, and more. This can quickly become too much.

There are also fiduciary duties and liabilities that apply to Board members, so learning what’s going on with the organization before joining is important. It’s much harder to extract yourself elegantly from a bad situation once you are in it. I’ve been on a few tough Boards with too much transition and poor financials- learned a lot each time, but I avoid these now unless it’s part of my employment responsibilities.

To size up an opportunity before you say yes, here are questions to ask.
1.     What has been the recent turnover rate in Board membership and officers? (if high, why?)
2.     Is there D&O (Directors and Officers) insurance in place?
3.     How much is in the reserve fund? Are monthly expenditures covered by incoming revenues?
4.     How is the relationship between the ED/management company and the Board?
5.     What are the formal duties (they should have a document setting them forth)? What are the common other expectations?
6.     Is a financial contribution required or expected from the individual or his/her host organization?
7.     What’s the estimated time commitment monthly/quarterly? (starts with monthly 4 hour meetings plus all-day strategic planning sessions on a few Saturday? yikes!)
      Congrats if you do have an opportunity to help lead an organization. It is worthwhile.. but choose carefully! Pictured: a rooftop bar, the type of venue you may enjoy decompressing at after lengthy Board meetings.

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