Getting on Board

Board: Effective Governance
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Apr 16, 2015 | Blog

From time to time I’m approached by friends and colleagues for advice about how to become a member of a not for profit Board of Directors. I believe very strongly in the value of this kind of volunteering, and I’m happy to share some thoughts. Here are five key tips that I have learned over many years as a volunteer and as a consultant working with NFP Boards.

Follow your passion

The most successful Boards are comprised of people who have a deep and sincere passion for “the cause” of their respective organizations. What do you really care about? Which NFP organizations are working in that space? The combination is powerful.

Do your homework

Being a Director is a legal and financial responsibility. The Board table is “where the buck stops” and you should understand fully what you’re taking on before you agree to serve. There are duties of confidentiality, loyalty and care that you will be expected to exercise as a Director. Typically, at a minimum, the Board of a NFP organization is accountable to the members or owners of the organization, and the public for:

  • Fiscal responsibility: developing budget and monitoring performance relative to that budget
  • Statutory responsibility: maintaining non-profit status and laws
  • Contract compliance: monitoring compliance
  • Standard of care: ensuring practices in place to reduce the risk of harm to employees and clients
  • Strategic direction: ensuring effective organizational planning and strategic direction by clarifying the organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and policies.
  • Reputation: ensuring the organization maintains good relations with its community and stakeholders
  • Leadership: supporting and overseeing the work of the chief executive (senior staff member), and ensuring succession planning and renewal for the Board.

Start slow

Once you’ve decided on an organization to support, think about getting involved in ways that are a less onerous commitment compared to Directorship. This could be another kind of volunteering (e.g. knowledge philanthropy); event production (e.g. chair a task force for a fundraiser) or service on a Board committee. These kinds of relationships allow you to learn more about the organizational culture, and they provide a way for you and your talents to become better known in the context of your future interest in joining the Board.

Clarify expectations

What do you expect to learn, experience or otherwise gain as a member of the Board? What are you prepared to give? A good Board recruitment process will include an interview during which you will be asked these questions. For your part, feel free to ask the organization, what do they want from you? Why are they interested in you, and are there particular skills they seek or roles they see you playing if you are appointed?

Educate yourself

Like so many things in these fast-paced time, NFP Board governance is rapidly evolving. If you take the plunge and become a Director, ensure that your Board engages in regular Board Development activities so that the group is up to date on sectoral changes and challenges. Individually, you can find great resources through organizations like Vantage PointBoardSource and Imagine Canada. And if you’re committed to growing your own capacity as a Director, think about additional personal education through programs such as the Institute for Corporate Directors’ Not for Profit Governance training.

I wish you all the best in your Director experience – and encourage you to do some thinking and some research before you make this commitment, because it will surely change your life.


This piece was posted with permission from patriciaevans.ca

Patricia Evans Principal Consultant at Patricia Evans & Associates Inc.

Patricia Evans is a facilitator and consultant based in Vancouver BC. She draws on more than 30 years experience in health care, communications and the social profit sector, providing services including facilitation, strategic planning and governance support. 

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Pat Evans

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