The Friday Five: Assessing the Board of Directors

I have a friend who is considering a job opportunity as an Executive Director for a nonprofit organization, but has some concerns about its board. He asked me, What are the key questions to ask a board before accepting the Executive Director position?

There are many questions to ask, but here are five areas to consider:

1. Mission Clarity

Does the board have a clear understanding of the ultimate mission of the organization it is serving, or are there significant differences in each member's articulation of the mission? Is there agreement among the board as to what kind of chief executive they are seeking to hire, according to their understanding of what the mission will require? If the board were to be looking at a mountain range, would they all point to the same mountain that they are trying to climb?

2. Role Clarity

Does the board have a clear understanding and practice of how a healthy board operates? Do they have a track record of governance fueled by integrity, humility and appropriate boundaries of staff/board roles? Do you get a sense of whether they might micro-manage your leadership or be so hands-off that they leave you on your own?

3. Vision for Growth

Does the board have a vision for the organization to grow - both in health and in impact? Many boards prefer the comfort of small operations, and therefore, greater control. Are they recruiting you because they want to keep the status quo or because they see the need to grow beyond its current capacity and operation?

4. Serious About Success

Is the board going to give you the support that you need in order to succeed as its new chief executive? Will they hold you accountable to performance of mission-related objectives? Will they entrust you with personnel and programmatic authority to meet those goals? Do they have a competent board chair who is available and committed to ensuring your success?

5. A Commitment to Learning

No board is perfect, and most boards are far from flourishing. You don't need a five-star board to accept the job. But what you do want to be a part of a learning organization. Boards everywhere are a work in progress. The most rewarding board to work for is the one that is committed to learning and adapting along the way.