The Top Seven Reasons Board Candidates Choose One Nonprofit Over Another

Dec 20, 2012 3:30 PM ET

For over two decades, I’ve had the honor and privilege of guiding hundreds of business executives and professionals in choosing the nonprofit boards on which they’ll serve. Each candidate experiences a personal journey exploring regional, national and perhaps global organizations, sorting through a plethora of causes and considering nonprofits that are at vastly different stages--from start-up enterprises to century-old institutions.

When making their final choice, here are the seven considerations board candidates tend to take most seriously:

  1. Am I excited about the mission? Is it meaningful enough for me to take time from my busy life, make generous financial contributions, and ask my company and friends to support the organization as well?
  2. Do I find the chief executive officer (executive director) compelling--someone I am confident in and look forward to working with?
  3. Do I find the programs compelling? Are they achieving the work the organization has set out to do? (And if the programs need to be enhanced or streamlined, do the chief executive and/or the board seem prepared to make that happen?)
  4. What is the revenue model? What are the challenges? Do the CEO and board seem prepared to address the challenges?
  5. Who are the board leaders? Do they seem to have a handle on the key issues facing the organization? Are they prepared to galvanize the board to strengthen the organization, including with financial support?
  6. What value can I add? Am I ready to do what they need from me? Do I think the CEO and board will actually engage me and appreciate what I can contribute?
  7. Is this an organization with integrity, as evidenced by their adherence to legal and fiduciary duties and responsibilities? And if they are missing the mark on a few specific matters, what are they? Are the board and CEO interested and open to making corrections?

Dealbreakers: Scaring away the board candidates you most want to recruit

Board candidates that bring diverse perspectives and valuable experience and resources are not lacking for board options. People are most likely to choose boards to which they can add value, not those that could possibly stymie their efforts.

Board candidates often consider the following to be dealbreakers: too big and stale of a board to allow new board members to truly engage, obstructive or divisive board members, weak or incompetent CEO or board leadership, an obsolete board structure, lackluster board participation in attendance and/or giving/fundraising, and revenue challenges the leadership is unwilling to face. 

The lesson for nonprofits in building highly effective boards

The key message for nonprofit boards is to pave the way to attract and retain the board members who will add the most value in helping to advance their organizations to their greatest potential. Pave the way by assessing your board and improving your board practices and effectiveness.

For their part, business executives and professionals are most effective on boards when they have considered a variety of options, made a meaningful choice and prepared themselves to "make the translation." That's when the fun begins. A good nonprofit board experience leads to remarkable results for the board member, the board member's company, and most importantly, the community.

by Alice Korngold

Join Alice Korngold for “Business People on Nonprofit Boards: Advancing Organizations and Developing as Leaders,” an interactive program for nonprofit board members and executives on January 11.

For more from Alice Korngold, see our Page to Practice™ book summary feature of her book, “Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses” and her featured articles posted on CausePlanet.

For more on selecting board members, see Korngold’s articles, “The six worst—and best—reasons to recruit business executives to your board" and “Corporate social responsibility: leveraging business engagement to build better boards.” Also, see our related Page to Practice™ book summaries on boards:A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members” by Julia Ingraham Walker andThe Ultimate Board Member’s Book” by Kay Sprinkel Grace.