Questions to ask (before is too late) in considering a board position

Questions to ask (before is too late) in considering a board position

Over 50,000 people serve on the boards of non-profits according to the Benefacts. 

So what do you need to consider before you decide to accept an invitation to serve on a non-profit board. Assuming there is a 10- 20% board turnover of directors each year 5,000 – 10,000 people have to consider this question annually.

The first question you should consider is…. Do I believe in the mission or purpose of the organisation? If not stop right there!

If you do, then other things you should consider are:

  • What is the ambition of the organisation? If this is not clear, you might want to pass.
  • How can I add value to the board….why have they asked me? 
  • Is the organisation solvent? Ask whoever is responsible on the Board this question?  Be enquiring!
  • What type of legal entity is it? This is critical to know as the form of legal entity will determine your regulatory and compliance responsibilities and the personal risk you may be taking.
  • What is the composition of the board?  Does it look fresh and energetic? Look at this in terms of  length of service, skills and experience, age, gender and other relevant diversity points of view.  Does the board make up feel right for the organisation it seeks to govern and lead? If not be careful. Find out why?  If it is male, pale and frail, it may not be the board for you. 
  • Has the organisation been in the news recently and why?
  • Talk to current and former board members to get an understanding of what it feels like to be in the boardroom.  Does it get bogged down in the operations when it should spend more time looking to the future. Is it energetic and dynamic or just coasting. 

The world of sport, healthcare, social services and education relies heavily on volunteer board members. If you believe in the mission of the organisation, but are wary about joining a board that is looking a bit jaded, discuss some preconditions with the chair.  

These could include getting more relevant skills on board, improving board rotation and having a greater focus on the future rather than mundane operational matters.

Ireland’s non-profits need good boards. So if the board is not quite fit for purpose in your view, perhaps by joining it, you can make it so. But make sure you have done your homework in advance. 

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David W Duffy FCA is the Founder and CEO of the Governance Company and the author of “A Practical Guide to Corporate Governance” published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

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