I was recently speaking with a friend who had been asked to join the board of a local not-for-profit organization. I asked him whether he agreed to join, and he told me, “Sure, of course I did!” When I asked him about what the organization does, he was only able to describe its mission at a high level. Then when I asked him if had any experience serving on a board or if he knew why he had specifically been asked to join, he answered: “Well, no, and I have no idea!”
Often, we are flattered when we’re asked to join something—and reasonably so! —and so we assume it must be a good thing and a worthy organization. But to maintain an active commitment for the entire length of your board service, you need clarity from the start on what it would entail to accept the board assignment and the values you share with the organization.
What does this board want from me?
You should start by asking yourself, “Why would this board potentially want me?” Boards often recruit individuals because they are known to the board or are a supporter of the organization in some way. Sometimes people are asked to join a board because they have a set of skills the board needs. Other times, the organization’s leaders know that an individual has been generous in other sets of circumstances, and has the capacity to give financially themselves or raise funds through their network for the organization. One should be clear on why they’ve been asked to serve on the board so they know what is expected of them and whether they have the skills or capacity to meet those expectations.
Does this organization align with my values?
It is essential to know the mission of the organization before committing to be a member of its board. Does the organization’s mission, vision, and values align with your personal values, goals, and passions? Do we have similar views about what is important? For example, social welfare organizations providing services to distressed populations, trade organizations, and for-profit corporations all have boards, but those organizations are going to have very different goals. You must make sure you can reconcile the organization’s mission with your personal values, and ask yourself whether this is an entity you could align with.
Can I commit to the duties of a board member?
When you’re asked to join a board, it’s not like being asked to join a club or professional organization where you don’t have to make an effort. Board service is not a hobby; it really is a commitment. You are pledging your time, skills, and thoughtfulness to make a meaningful contribution in service of the organization’s mission.