Frequently Asked Questions
Executive Service Corps of the Triangle (ESC) (www.esctriangle.org) provides professional, affordable consulting to nonprofits in Orange, Wake, Durham and Chatham counties of North Carolina to help them achieve their missions. ESC also created and maintains this Build a Better Board website, which facilitates matches between nonprofit boards that are looking for new directors and individuals who are looking for board membership opportunities.
A common range of time commitments for many boards is about 5 to 10 hours per month. If you are considering a board position, be sure to ask what you will be expected to do as a board member. Then think realistically about how much time YOU will need to fulfill these expectations.
How do board responsibilities differ from the responsibilities of a nonprofit’s executive director and staff?
As a board member, will I be required to sit on a board committee? If so, how is the committee assignment made?
Why should I use this website to contact a nonprofit rather than just sending around my resume and some letters of interest?
If I am asked and I decide to join a board, what kind of training will I get in order to learn how to be a good board member?
PLEASE NOTE: The answers in this section must not be taken as qualified legal advice. These answers represent the best opinions of ESC’s volunteer nonprofit consultants, based upon their collective years of experience working with nonprofit agencies, boards, and board members. For complete and definitive information, you should seek the advice of an attorney, accountant or other authoritative source to make sure your questions are fully answered.
The first step in board recruitment is to identify the skills your board needs to function effectively at this time, and compare that to skills you have among your current board members. Determine the critical gaps – what skills are you missing among your current board? See the Resources page of this website for articles explaining how this type of skills assessment and gap analysis can be done.
In more mature agencies, however, we advise boards to diversify their membership as much as possible. Avoid board members who are friends or relatives either of other board members or of agency staff. Boards with diverse members make better decisions. Boards often encounter issues that provoke heated differences of opinion, debate, and conflict. The existence of friends and family on a board can lead to suspicions of cliques, which can cloud conflict resolution and sound decision-making practices.
The IRS has stated that it expects boards to have independent members, and it discourages nonprofits from having boards on which many of the directors have pre-existing relationships.
As an example, a vendor for a particular product used by an agency may be recruited to the board and prove to be a valuable board member most of the time. This board member must disclose his or her potential conflict of interest in writing each year of his or her board term. Furthermore, when staff or board decisions are made related to that vendor’s product or service, the vendor should be recused from any related decision-making, and should abstain from any relevant votes. On the other hand, the appearance of propriety may make it desirable simply to avoid putting this type of vendor on the board at all.
To avoid possible conflicts of interest, the IRS has stated that it expects boards to have independent members, and it discourages nonprofits from having boards on which directors may have pre-existing personal or business relationships.
First, set a goal to bring on board members who are different from the board members you traditionally have had. Do not recruit people just because they are different though; instead decide on the characteristics of new board members you are interested in.
Look for board candidates in many ways. Talk with members of other organizations, businesses, and community groups. Don’t overlook people in the community to which you provide services. Post job descriptions on bulletin boards in public places such as libraries, community centers, coffee shops, and government offices. Use web-based services such as the Build a Better Board website. In general, think creatively outside the box and go to new and different sources to let people know about your board openings.
A suggested list of documents for potential board candidates:
- Agency mission and vision statements
- Agency program descriptions and brochures
- URL of agency website, if that is not immediately obvious
- List of all board directors and bios of board officers
- General list of board responsibilities and copy of board contract, if you have one
- List of board committees
- Most recent budget and current financial statements
- Most recent federal tax return Form 990
Invite board candidates to ask for additional information if they wish. This can be an indication of their true interest and the value they might have as board members. If the candidate requests additional information, promptly provide it to them if at all possible.
Is it smart and appropriate to ask potential board members to provide personal references that we may contact?
PLEASE NOTE: The answers in this section must not be taken as qualified legal advice. These answers represent the best opinions of ESC’s volunteer nonprofit consultants, based upon their collective years of experience working with nonprofit agencies and boards. For complete and definitive information, your nonprofit should seek the advice of an accountant, attorney or other authoritative source to make sure your agency fully complies with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations. Also, for every question, make sure your board practices conform to the requirements stated in your agency’s bylaws.