As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this week, we’re reminded about the importance of community service. We’re all working together to strengthen our communities and there may be several causes that you are passionate about.  You’re eager to serve on a nonprofit board!

But how do you know where to serve?

And for you nonprofit leaders, the benefit of this post is to show what potential board members are considering when they choose you. Are you being perceived as a professional organization that is intentional about board development?

You may not know how to find out the answers to these questions so I encourage you to educate yourself in these ways:

  • Read, really read, the nonprofit’s website looking for what they share, what it tells you and what’s missing. Compare several sites for a good sense of what resonates with you.
  • Look up their recent 990 tax forms for financial and leadership information.
  • Take a tour and chat with the Executive Director if possible.
  • Volunteer at the nonprofit and see how things work behind the scenes.
  • Check the ratings on the various sites that evaluate nonprofits (e.g. Guidestar or Charity Navigator), but keep in mind some of these ratings are based on incomplete information or are calculated by formulas that are not embraced by the sector; so take them with a grain of salt as just one of the factors you consider in your decision.

Here are the top 15 questions to ask before serving on a nonprofit board:

1. How do its current programs relate to the mission and who does the nonprofit actually serve?

2. Does the organization have a strategic plan that is reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis?

3. Are the nonprofit’s beneficiaries satisfied with the organization? How do they know?

4. How is the board structured? (Officers, committees, etc.)

5. Are there descriptions of the responsibilities of the board as a whole, committees and of individual board members?

6. How are board meetings structured? (Are there opportunities to discuss strategic issues, raise questions, etc.)

7. Am I comfortable with the organization’s fundraising strategy (including board giving), and is there diversity among revenue sources?

8. Is the financial condition of the organization sound, with sufficient reserves?

9. Is there a system of checks and balances to prevent conflicts of interest between board members and the organization?

10. Does the nonprofit have directors’ and officers’ liability coverage?

11. What are the different ways I can engage as a board member and how much of my time will be required?

12. What type of orientation can I expect if I were selected to serve on this nonprofit board?

13. Does the organization provide opportunities for board development and education?

14. Is there a succession plan in place for leadership?

15. How do board members interact with staff?

Your time, talent and treasure are invaluable. Let’s make sure you make a good decision you can enjoy for years to come.

What other questions would YOU ask? Comment below or email me with your ideas!