Captioning–Press (Special Page)

"Our BoardAssist candidates have been amazing additions to our Board of Directors."

Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
Credit: Volunteers of America
helping individuals and families in need

FAQs about Joining a Nonprofit Board: How to Evaluate Your Fit with the Executive Director

Having a strong partnership with the Executive Director of the board you are considering joining is one of the most important things that influences whether someone has a rewarding board experience.  Most Executive Directors in the nonprofit community are smart, committed and highly professional.  But does their management style work well with yours?

We hope this week’s post will help you as you ask yourself:  will I be able to work effectively with this Executive Director?  Is this the right board for me?  For more on what to consider before joining a board, see our book Giving Back, downloadable from the top of every page of our website.  

 

From Giving Back:

 

FAQs about Joining a Nonprofit Board:  How to Evaluate Your Fit with the Executive Director

 

Having a strong partnership with the Executive Director is one of the most important things that influences whether someone has a rewarding board experience.  Most Executive Directors in the nonprofit community are smart, committed and highly professional.  But does their management style work well with yours?

Are you an email person but your Executive Director prefers the phone, only checking her email once a day.  We have worked with Executive Directors who don’t check email more than that.  If you are someone who is on email all day long and rarely able to make a phone call, this board would probably not be a great fit for you.

Are you someone who has an idea and wants to act on it immediately….while your calendar permits…in between deals?  If the Executive Director of your board is someone who prefers to work through her to do list in chronological order, as she built it, this could be frustrating.

Are you someone who would be offended if it took the Executive Director a week to return your call?  Has this been your experience with this Executive Director during the board courting process?  If so, it’s not likely to improve once you are on the team.

Does this Executive Director truly inspire you?  Since there are so many Executive Directors who will, we firmly believe you should not partner with someone who is professional, but does not truly inspire you.

What’s the Executive Director’s relationship like with the board?  With the board chair?  We have worked with more than one board where the Board Chair and Executive Director were literally not speaking to each other.  And hadn’t been for months.  You may decide you like the board enough to proceed knowing this but it’s important that you do know what’s in store for you.  Perhaps you will be the one to broker peace between the two.  If the Executive Director does not enjoy the confidence of the board, board meetings can be very tense and a lot of unnecessary frustrations can stand between you and what you want to accomplish on your board.

Is this an Executive Director who really values the input of the board?  One Executive Director confided in us, “the board has such confidence in what I do; they never question any of my decisions.”  For most of our candidates, that’s not the type of board they want.

What is the background of the Executive Director?  Are they a former Boston Consulting Gropu consultant who later in life decided to start a nonprofit, in which case you can feel confident you’ll speak the same language?  Or is their background so different you feel they will see you as heartless, when you propose sticking to the budget… because the agency is operating in the red…when they want to increase expenses to better serve their consumers.  We had that situation with a charter school board where the founder and Executive Director wanted to buy all new books for the students.  The finance committee board members were painted as uncaring when they pointed out that the school was close to shutting down, reserves were low, and in order to stay open, they couldn’t afford new books.

A final and important question is: how long has the Executive Director been in the job?  If they are retiring in 3 years, after having served for 20 years, are they going to be amenable to making lots of changes in their final years?  Or are they new to their job and eager to explore ways to improve how they serve their consumer base?  To be clear, there are many seasoned Executive Directors who are very amenable to change, but it’s always wise to get a sense of whether your particular Executive Director is one of them.

 

Want to read more of the FAQs folks ask us before joining a nonprofit board?  Learn more by downloading Giving Back, our guide to nonprofit board service, complete with case studies and answers to the FAQs we are asked most about board service.

Ready to dive in and start exploring the perfect board for you?  Tell us more about what matters most to you – what your dream board looks like – and we’ll get started.