Find Your Nonprofit Fit: 10 Questions to Ask Before Serving on a Nonprofit Board

Emily H. Benham, NLC CEO Tips

Behind every great nonprofit organization is a great board of directors. While many business and community leaders pursue board positions because they genuinely want to make a difference, research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar, suggests that far too many boards lack the sufficient skills, resources and experiences to meet the needs of most nonprofit organizations. Serving on a nonprofit board is about much more than an attractive designation on a resume — it’s a legal and ethical responsibility that has critical implications for nonprofit performance and community impact.

So how do you know if you’re ready to serve on a nonprofit board? How do you choose a nonprofit organization that’s right for you? Ask yourself these 10 questions to find your nonprofit fit.

1. Where’s your passion?
What activities or interests light a personal fire within you? What do you enjoy spending your time doing?

2. Who helped you?
In your life and career, who has been most influential to you? Is there a mentor, supervisor, family member or friend who shaped the person you’ve become today?

3. What’s most important to you?
What issues do you care about most deeply in your community and/or the world?

4. What makes you angry?
What frustrates you most every time you see or hear about it?

5. What makes you hopeful?
What are the things that make you feel positive about the future?

6. What makes you cry?
What brings out your deepest feelings and moves you emotionally?

Thinking through these first six questions will help you identify issues and causes that reveal the nonprofit organization that’s right for you. But serving on a nonprofit board isn’t just about your passions. It must also be a fit for the nonprofit organization as well. To ensure you’re really ready to commit to serving on a nonprofit board, think through the value you can bring to an organization based on what they need.

7. Talent: My talent is ________________.
What are your greatest strengths and skills? What are you best at?

8. Time: I can devote ____ hours per month to a nonprofit and board service.
Given everything you have going on in your life personally and professionally, what kind of time commitment can you honestly make to be fully engaged?

9. Treasure: I am willing to contribute $____ personally.
Think about the financial resources you and your family would/could contribute to support the nonprofit organization. If you’re looking to join a nonprofit board, make sure the organization is among your top three philanthropic priorities.

10. Ties: I am able to connect a nonprofit to the following resources ___________.
What doors can you open to help the organization and what relationships are you willing to call upon to do so? This may include introductions to community leaders, asks to other corporate supporters, connections to major donors, etc.

DOWNLOAD OUR WORKSHEET TO FIND YOUR NONPROFIT FIT

Serving on a nonprofit board is a serious responsibility that requires serious thought. By thinking through these questions and being thoughtful about your answers, you can help the right nonprofit organization accelerate its mission while advancing the community issues you care about most.

READ NEXT: 10 Ways to Engage Your Board in Fundraising


Become a Board Rock Star

Whether you’re new to serving on a nonprofit board or are a nonprofit executive looking to enhance your organization’s board, the Nonprofit Leadership Center offers many opportunities to help you strengthen your leadership and organization.

Get Your Certificate in Board Governance

In our six-hour, interactive program over two evenings in October, you’ll learn everything you need to strengthen your board governance. Specifically, you’ll understand how to …

  • Identify, recruit, orient and even release board members
  • Define board roles and responsibilities
  • Motivate board members and keep them accountable
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Define an effective board-staff partnership
  • Determine the board’s role in financial oversight and fundraising
  • Plan and run a successful board meeting
  • Develop your nonprofit’s financial statements
  • Budget and manage cash flow
  • Complete audits and IRS filings

In addition to the above, you’ll build an invaluable network of Tampa Bay nonprofit leaders you can consult at any time.

Attend the Board & Senior Leadership Conference

Join nonprofit executives and their board leaders at our annual Board & Senior Leadership Conference to learn how to harness organizational culture and climate to advance your mission and impact. This year’s conference is on November 7. Learn more and register here.

Explore Custom Training for Your Board

Need a custom solution designed specifically for your nonprofit organization and board? From two-hour refresher sessions to full-day retreats, we work with you to understand your needs and master board leadership within your organization. To learn more explore opportunities, email us at info@nlctb.org.

See More Board Governance Resources

Check out our board governance resource page for a listing of resources, templates and worksheets to help you and your board. You can also find a listing of open board positions in the Tampa Bay area here.


Emily H. Benham has more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit field. Before taking on the role of CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center in 2014, Emily was the Interim President for Bayfront HERO (Health, Education and Research Organization), a health legacy foundation formed in 2013 with the net proceeds of the sale of Bayfront Medical Center to a for-profit entity. Prior to the sale, she was a member of Bayfront Medical Center’s senior leadership team and directed its philanthropic arm (Bayfront Health Foundation) for more than 20 years, raising millions of dollars for capital improvements for the hospital. In 2008, Emily achieved the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy’s highest level of certification, FAHP. Prior to her work in health care philanthropy, Emily led fund development efforts at the Florida Orchestra, American Stage and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami.


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