Often in our haste to meet a deadline for recruiting board members, we whisk through the interview process or forego it entirely, relying on what we know about individuals through other connections or word of mouth.
Even when we believe we’re thorough, we tend to focus on the obvious rather than broach topics that are often better predictors of successful board service.
In my book Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today, I explore this topic at some length. Here, I offer four pertinent questions to ask potential board members.
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. In attempting to fill out a recruitment matrix (banker, corporate vice president, community volunteer), we shouldn’t overlook the passion dimension.
One arts organization, in its quest to form a more “corporate board,” recruited a number of business superstars but failed to test for passion. Little money was raised other than what came via the members’ corporations. There was little participation at concerts and events. And ultimately decisions were made that harmed the organization. Why? Because the passion factor was lacking.
2. What personal aspirations of yours could be enhanced by serving on our board?
Younger board members often view board service as a way not only to serve, but to gain connections and experience to advance their careers. Similarly, there are individuals seeking board positions who are looking to make career changes, acquire new skills, or learn more about the nonprofit sector.
To meet these needs, you first must uncover what they are. But, just as important, you should keep them at the front of your mind during the board member’s term of service. In this way, you’ll encourage people’s growth and participation and give board members experiences (marketing, writing, speaking) that will advance their careers.
3. 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 consider this unimportant. This is another aspect of the “match.”
A board member may scarcely have time to attend meetings and serve on a committee or two, let alone feel obligated to socialize. When a person doesn’t care to mix philanthropic service with his or her social life, it can create awkwardness with other board members.
A person who fails to attend board social events may never be fully embraced by other members. Similarly, if a person is seeking more than a volunteer experience, and your board’s culture isn’t social, you very well could have a problem on your hands.
4. How much time can you give us?
To slide over this critical question, hoping the individual, when confirmed, will make time when you need it, is unrealistic. One organization, when enlisting volunteers for a capital campaign, was savvy enough to state the time requirement in every volunteer job description. When someone committed to the job, he or she knew it would take, for example, two hours a week.
While some board members may be enlisted because they offer a connection or a presence that can be more important than time, most board members are enlisted to serve. And serving requires time.
Setting time standards is one of the ways we convey the importance of our organization to volunteers.
Kay Sprinkel Grace is the author of Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today, from which this post is adapted; The Busy Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising; and The Ultimate Board Member’s Book.