I love questions. I think sometimes asking people a probing question can be a great way to get them engaged, excited, inspired–awake. I’ve written before about the 5 hard questions every nonprofit should ask, but today I want to focus on specific questions to ask your board.
What the vast majority of nonprofits have in common is a struggle to get their board working effectively for them. But instead of giving into frustration and berating or guilting your board, try asking individual board members a few questions the next time you meet. And if you don’t regularly (at least once a year) meet one-on-one with each board member, you should start that practice this year.
Here are a few questions to try:
- Why Do You Serve?
This is such a critical question for your board member to answer. Often we don’t ask board members to articulate why they volunteer their time and invest in a nonprofit. Forming this answer can help your board member re-commit to her service. And if she has a particularly compelling answer, you might ask her if you could videotape or write it up to use on your website, in prospect materials, etc.
- What Do You Bring to Our Nonprofit?
Board members shouldn’t just take up space on a board. They should be recruited because they have specific skills, experience, or networks that directly contribute to the strategic goals of the organization. If you and your board member don’t know what assets he brings, it’s about time to start figuring it out. This question can also launch a conversation about how your organization can more effectively tap into those assets.
- What Are Your Individual Goals for This Year?
Each individual board member must take responsibility for her board service. How does she want to contribute to the effectiveness and sustainability of the organization? Can we create specific goals for how that will come to fruition in the coming year? Create an environment where each individual board member is expected to take an active and conscious role in her board service.
- What Results Is Our Nonprofit Achieving?
As I’ve written before, the nonprofit sector is changing, and it’s no longer enough just to do good work. Nonprofits must begin to articulate how they create change to a social problem. So it’s up to you to start educating your board to think in this new way too. Begin a conversation about what your board member thinks your nonprofit is achieving, what change you are creating. This can be a real opportunity to get your board member excited about where the organization is going, and the value it is providing to the community. With that excitement he can become driven to do more to make that vision a reality.
- How Do You Want to Contribute Financially?
Oh, believe me, I know how much this question strikes fear in the heart of board members and executive directors alike. But I strongly believe that every single board member must contribute to the financial bottom line of their nonprofit. The good news is that there are countless ways for them to do that (see my long list of ideas here and here). Even your most fundraising shy board members should be required to bring money in the door in some way, every year. So start a conversation about this individual board member’s plans, and help her brainstorm ways, based on her answers to #2 above, that she can contribute.
I would love to see nonprofit boards and staffs have more open, honest and engaging conversations. Move past comfortable, polite interactions and start asking hard questions to unlock the power of your board members.
Photo Credit: judyboo
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