Interview Strategies for Boards and Candidates

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Interview Strategies for Boards and Candidates

people sitting at a tableSelecting quality candidates for your board requires asking the most relevant questions possible during the interview process. Likewise, board candidates are also responsible for asking insightful
questions to ensure that the organization is an appropriate fit for their interests and skills. We all want success. So, how do we create the best scenario for both the board and the potential board member?

Not-for-profit organizational consultant Joan Garry offers some humorous but worthwhile advice to boards conducting interviews and Dr. Richard Leblanc of compiled a list of questions he would ask – of himself and of the organization – before joining a not-for-profit board. Here are two resources to help make your next interview an effective one.

Joan Garry on How to Select First Rate Board Members

Board interviews are INTERVIEWS!

If you ask me, the single biggest problem with interviewing board candidates is that they are not interviews at all. Candidates come to “interviews” assuming that the job is theirs if they want it. The committee sells and persuades and typically does not vet the candidate in any substantive way. And real discussions about the fundraising obligation are swept under the rug for fear of chasing a good prospect away.

Tell the truth: you’ve been in prospect interviews where the prospect couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Right? You’re not interviewing at all. You’re selling.

Board Interviews: The Wrong Way

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying the following in a board interview, you’re doing it wrong:

  • The time commitment is not onerous. The committees don’t meet that often and a lot of times you can “phone in.”
  • The other board members are terrific and lots of fun.
  • Yes, there is a fundraising commitment, but… (A therapist once told me something important. Insert the word BUT into a sentence and you invalidate every word of the sentence that precedes it. “I love you, but…”)

So what’s wrong here?  Almost everything:

  • You learn nothing about the prospect.
  • You sound desperate.
  • You are not honest or clear about the obligations.

Board Interviews: The Right Questions to Ask

OK, so let’s get to the meat of it. What questions should you ask in a board interview to get the best possible board members? Here are six critical interview questions for not-for-profit board members.

  • 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?
  • Can you tell us about your experience in fundraising? Fundraising is a significant obligation of board service. Here, you need to dig and probe. Helping her daughter sell Girl Scout cookies does not count. Ask what it looked like; ask about comfort level.
  • Would you be willing to attend a lunch with the Executive Director in which the goal was to make a major donor ask?
  • Board members bring experience, wisdom, strategic thinking, and their rolodexes – can you tell us about yours?  (You’re probing here for who is in it and how willing the prospect is to share it.)
  • What kind of autonomy do you have over your calendar? There will be meetings between board meetings, occasional donor lunches.


Dr. Richard Leblanc on questions to ask before joining a board:

  • Do you have an inner passion for what the organization does and stands for (its vision, mission and values), and whom it serves? Can you make a solid contribution to the strategy of the organization and its performance?
  • For director and officer insurance, ask to see the policy and have it independently reviewed, including scope and depth of coverage, exclusions and indemnities. Make sure you are appropriately covered, including advancement of legal expenses.
  • Ask about donor stewardship assurance, conflicts of interest, internal policies governing self-dealing, asset treatment, ethical compliance, expense reports for staff, gift policy, and reputational risk. Specifically, ask to see these policies and reporting as part of your “ask” binder of materials.
  • What are your roles, responsibilities, and expectations, both generally (as a director), but specifically for you? Are donations or fundraising expected? If so, what are expectations, so you know what you are signing on to? Be as explicit as possible here, tactfully and diplomatically. But don’t not ask.
  • What competencies, skills and contacts do you possess that would contribute to your effectiveness as a director, that this not-for-profit board is looking to you for? What contribution to you think you could make?
  • How many board and committee meetings are there? Length? Location? Frequency? What is the tenure? What are the conditions for reappointment or resignation, if any? The average board position, even in a not-for-profit, is 200+ hours a year, particularly if you are not from the sector, so don’t take a board position lightly. (Also, you are likely not being paid, although you will receive non-financial benefit from doing so, including satisfaction, networking, fun, and making a difference.)
  • Lastly, why do you want to serve as a director of this not-for-profit board? Does this board and sector align with your long-term career and director profile and trajectory? This may be your first board, and your first board likely is a not-for-profit or governmental board, so plan for the future. If you are not entirely confident in the above and have any red flags, say “no thanks.” More directorships will come along and remember, your subsequent directorships are based on your first one, so be careful in joining the “right” board for you. Then your directorial career can flourish.