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Blog > How to prepare for an interview to join a board of directors

How to prepare for an interview to join a board of directors

posted on 1:52 PM, March 3, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

Ottawa alone has about 2,000 non-profit organizations, all of which need hard-working, dedicated people to serve on their boards of directors. Joining a board is a great way to develop your leadership skills and make a solid difference for a cause you care about.

Your interview is your chance to show the organization that you are the best person to serve on their board, and also your chance to find out if this is actually the best organization to which to donate your time and expertise.

Here are some questions which you would do well to think about ahead of time. These come from best-practice documents regarding board governance, so your spidey senses should start tingling if NONE of these come up in the interview.

What do you know about our organization?

Why are you interested in committing your time and energy to us?

What do you think are the characteristics of a great board member?

Some things are likely to be

  • good listening skills,
  • being willing to ask difficult questions when they are pertinent and important,
  • understanding limits of authority (e.g. don’t micromanage staff), and
  • the willingness and ability to be an ambassador for the organization in numerous contexts, maybe even at your daughter’s soccer game.

Fundraising is a significant obligation of board service. Can you tell us about your experience in fundraising?

Here, good interviewers will dig and probe. Helping your son sell chocolates for his school band does not count. Fundraising for board members often involves discussing the organization and its needs with major donors, being specific about impacts, listening carefully about the donor’s priorities, and working with them to find an intersection of your needs and their passions.

If you don't have experience with this, then be honest and upfront about what you know and don't know, and then maybe allude to your ability to learn quickly.

Would you be willing to attend a lunch with the Executive Director in which the goal was to make a major donor ask?

Well, would you? Be honest. If you are at your best behind the scenes, then make sure they know that. There is a place for every kind of person on a team.

Board members bring experience, wisdom, strategic thinking, and their rolodexes.  Can you tell us about yours? 

They’re probing here for who is in your network and how willing you are to share it. We look to people in our networks to provide advice and introductions. If you have done your homework on the organization, you'll likely have an idea of what sort of advice they'll likely need, or which sectors they'll likely want introductions in.

If, having done your homework, you are not sure which people in your network to talk about, then ask clarifying questions. You don't need to mention names at this point. If you have a good friend in senior management at the Bank of Canada, that is enough

What kind of autonomy do you have over your calendar?

There will likely be meetings between board meetings, occasional donor lunches, and other draws on your time. Be honest and upfront about your flexibility and your limitations. If you work shifts which are determined by someone else, then let the interview panel know that.

These are some questions you can expect to prepare for when interviewing for a position on a board of directors. In a future post, we’ll go into questions you should ask of your interviewers.

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