Saturday, January 8, 2011

Finding the right Board for You

Guest Blog for University of San Diego's 7th Annual Nonprofit Governance Symposium

Finding the Right Board for You!
Presentation By: Wanda Lee Bailey, M.S., Principal, Strategic Transitions LLC

When I first joined the YNPN San Diego Board, I was looking for an opportunity to develop skills and gain exposure to the nonprofit community and decisions made within it. I also wanted to help create a network of like-minded individuals in San Diego because I believe that with connections comes a special kind of power-- one that clears the way for essential communication and multiplies the possibilities for change and progress by conjoining and synthesizing ideas. I had the personal need--I still do. I had the passion--I still do! My decision to join the YNPN San Diego Board was one of the best I've made.

Now, why are you looking to be on a Board? What is your personal need?

First and foremost: Do you know what a board is?

Do you know what a Board really does and what it would need from you? Find out before committing. Don't become blinded by love. Once you get to know the organization, you might realize it lacks that certain luster that gives you those butterflies you had at the beginning of the relationship. I've made these mistakes before--as I'm sure we all have. Today, I'm a lot more careful when making decisions. This is important because not only is it NOT fair to ourselves to jump into something we don't fully understand, but it's also not fair to the cause we are joining.

If you want to join a board, you should know these simple details before going any further.
  • It's going to involve meetings--quite a few.
  • You're going to have to be involved in the community and steward relationships for that organization.
  • An organization with 100% Board giving is looked upon highly by the community. If you aren't willing to give to that organization, how are you going to be able to explain to potential funders that they should donate?
The Dating Game!

Wanda brilliantly shared that joining a board is a dating game. We can all relate to that. When you date someone, you make personal decisions. The first thing we ask is: Do I really want to date this person? Sure, maybe you do--or maybe you think you do. Let's face it. We've all been wrong when answering this question. Sometimes we find out too late. To help prevent mistakes in your thinking through this process, ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I really want to commit my time to this?
  • Would I be willing to make a financial commitment and give to this?
  • Do I enjoy oversight, thinking strategically and creating policy? This one doesn't quite fit the dating game for me--but it might for some people ;)
  • Do i understand role and responsibilities?
If you still aren't sure...Here are some deeper level thinking questions when considering your "date" or cause.
  • Am I passionate about this cause?
  • Do I have a personal connection to this cause?
  • Do I feel enthusiastic and am I willing to serve to support this cause?
  • Am I eager to share my passion for this cause with others?
  • Do I have skills that will help this cause?
  • Do I have the ability to network? Am I willing to share my connections to help? Do I actually have connections that will help?
Making Your Move
How do you meet a partner and ask for a date? Well, if you're lucky, they'll ask you (my personal preference). You can always say no. You can also Google them or check out the social networks like Facebook or Twitter to see what people are saying about them or what they're saying about themselves. Of course I'm referring to looking up organizations on the Internet, not people! I would never. That might be violating personal privacy ('s not--you should look up your date).

On the First Date (The Interview or Meeting)

Ask a lot of questions.

Why are they considering you? What is it they think you can offer? Do they have a (strategic) plan? (And my personal favorite...) What kind of baggage they have? Careful with this last one ;)

*Just one last piece of advice. This entire process is not full-proof. If you really want to be sure if the Board is right for you, join a Committee first.

Go get 'em.

Some resources to help you find a board:

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