What do you look for in a potential board member? (part one)

This is a huge, and often neglected topic for new social entrepreneurs. As such, I’m going to break my answer up into two columns.

Today, I’ll address some non-negotiable traits that should apply to ever board member. Next time, I’ll cover three basic traits that should collectively be present on your board as a whole.
 
Here are some traits that should be present in every member, especially at the startup phase.
 
1. Demonstrated commitment: A board member has to have already demonstrated that she cares about your cause in some tangible way, either by a significant donation and/or volunteer involvement. Sometimes this isn’t possible with a total startup, but still look for ways to gauge their commitment level before an invitation to the board.
 
A board position is giving someone who is already on board a hand at the tiller; it is not a first step on the gangway.
 
2. Alignment with you: Each member should already be on board with your fundamental vision and values. You’re not looking for “yes” men/women, but you don’t want to spend valuable time at this stage hashing out the basics. Spend a lot of time in the board interview process on this one because differences at this early stage can really derail the organization.
 
3. Plays well with others:  You just don’t want to spend extra energy overly managing conflicts with or between board members. A board member should be someone with whom you and others on the board will look forward to spending a couple of hours.
 
4. Brings definable value to the mission by being a board member.  I'll cover more about this in my next entry.  But the key point is that it's not enough that the board candidate is already contributing something to the organization; he or she must be someone who will contribute more (and it doesn't have to be just money) by coming on to the board.
 
This one may seem obvious but somehow first time executive directors can forget this principle.  It can be tempting to invite well meaning individuals who contribute a lot as volunteers, but whose contributions wouldn't change appreciably as a board member.  Alternatively, an individual may really click with you and is well liked by everyone... but doesn't move the meter on the organization's progress.
 
Remember, these traits are absolutely non-negotiable for every member. Don’t try to talk yourself into anyone if it means squinting on one of these. You will almost certainly regret it.

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