Don’t Wait to Be Asked

walkBy Anne Wallestad, president & CEO

In the world of fundraising, there’s a mantra, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”  And it’s true.  Organizations that wait for donors to come to them don’t typically do so well when it comes to fundraising.  And fundraisers – whether board or staff members – learn early on that leaving fundraising to chance is a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

The same could be said for board recruitment:  Waiting for potential board members to find you is not a winning scenario.  From a practical standpoint, you’re unlikely to have enough potential board members find you to effectively populate your board.  And from a strategic standpoint, you’re even less likely to find the blend of skill sets, community connections, and interpersonal dynamics that characterize the most effective boards.

But the importance of proactivity and thoughtful selection of board service opportunities goes both ways.  Individuals who are considering joining a board are wise to think about what they’re looking for in a board service opportunity.  And, once they know what that is, I would argue that it’s not smart to wait for it to come to you.

Why?  Because the most effective board members are individuals who are truly passionate about what an organization does; are willing to commit time, resources, and energy to strengthen and sustain it; and embrace board service as a serious commitment.  Self-identifying your commitment to an organization is a powerful first step in the right direction.

There is power in knowing what you want and going after it.  Here are good things to keep in mind when you do:

  • Consider working through a partner:  There are lots of organizations that help to identify and source board members for nonprofits in a specific community or mission area.  They’re a great place to start when looking for a board service opportunity.
  • Do your homework:  Learn about the organization’s programs and what its key strategies are for the future.  Read up on who’s currently serving on its board to get a sense of what the organization looks for in terms of its board profile and whether you could bring a new perspective or skill set.
  • Go with your gut:  You may find — once you get to know the organization a bit — that something feels “off” and that the thought of joining its board is making you uneasy.  Don’t ignore that feeling.  It’s much easier to avoid a bad board situation than to get out of one.  Check out Rick Moyers’s post Want to Avoid a Bad Board Experience?  Consider Saying No for some specific things to watch out for when considering a board.
  • Take no for an answer:  Just because a specific board service opportunity seems like the right fit for you doesn’t mean it will be the right fit for the organization.  It’s critical that organizations and individuals are honest about what they both are looking for and need.  If this particular organization isn’t looking for someone with your experience and background, that’s ok.  Move on and look for an organization that is.  For more on that topic, check out my previous post on What Online Dating Can Teach You About Boards.

Do you have a good story about going after a board service opportunity?  We’d love to hear about it.

Leave a comment


  1. Here are some questions you may want to ask as you consider board membership.
    1. Are the organization’s payroll taxes up-to-date?
    2. Are there particular discussions this board has difficulty handling?
    3. Does the executive director appreciate and observe the clear and sharp differentiation between governance and management?
    4. How large is the organization’s budget? What are its primary funding sources? Can I see the current budget, 990, and most recent audit?
    5. How long do the board members serve? The typical board term is 2 or 3 years. Why is your term 4 years?
    6. How many board members are needed to take action?
    7. If I were to join this board, what could I reasonably expect to get out of the experience?
    8. If I were to join this board, what would you want me to do during my first year?
    9. Is the organization being sued?
    10. Is the board being sued or has it ever been sued? Does the board maintain directors and officers’ liability insurance?
    11. Is there a positive partnership between the board chair and executive director?
    12. Is this a learning organization?
    13. What active committees does the board have?
    14. What are responsibilities of the directors?
    15. What are the major issues this board is facing? How are you addressing them now?
    16. What are your expectations and commitments?
    17. What does the organization hope I will contribute as a board member?
    18. What is the board’s vision of the future?
    19. What is the climate at board meetings?
    20. What is unique about the organization? What do you feel is unique about your board?
    21. What role do you see me playing on your board?
    22. What weaknesses are there in the way the board works together and with staff?
    23. Who is on the current board and how did they get there?
    24. Why are you interested in me as a board member?

  2. Anne Wallestad

     /  January 24, 2014

    These are great questions, Linda. Thank you so much for posting. If folks are interested in learning more about questions to ask before joining a board, check out these resources on BoardSource’s Board Recruitment Center:


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