REFRESH — Board Candidate Interviews: A Two-Way Experience So Be Prepared!

By Heather Terrence, CAE

July 9, 2019

For CSAE Trillium Forum Newsletter

As a non-profit governance consultant, I am frequently asked to provide assistance to those interviewing for a board position. I typically advise that for interviews, both parties are being assessed – the candidate is looking for a volunteer opportunity that aligns with their needs and the interviewers are looking for strong candidates to serve on the board. Unfortunately, some organizations fall short on wowing candidates, which results in individuals choosing another volunteer opportunity.

To get the best and brightest, organizations should strive to impress candidates and appear knowledgeable about every facet of the organization. This includes being prepared and organized, asking the right questions and being able to answer questions from candidates that are not typically raised.

Here are some key areas to cover and important questions to ask.

Board Competency or Skills Matrix: If your organization has such a document, ask the candidate how they personally fare against the competencies, skills and experience outlined. Ask them to provide examples, ideally from previous board work.

Strategic Plan: Provide this document to candidates in advance and ask them to explain what they think of the organization’s strategic direction and how they could contribute. Do they have experience with strategic planning while on other boards?

Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest Policies: Provide these documents to candidates in advance. Obtain confirmation that candidates can sign off on the Code of Conduct and that they have no conflicts that would prevent them from serving on the board.

Time Commitment: Be honest regarding how many meetings there will be (have a sample schedule on hand) and how much prep time is needed. Do they need to take on committee or fundraising work as part of being a board member? Are there other events they will need to attend as a board member? I sometimes hear newbie board members, particularly from more operational boards, say “If I would have known how much time is REALLY spent, I may have turned down the opportunity”.

Term Lengths: Besides knowing what will be on their plate for the first year, let candidates know what terms lengths are and what is the maximum number of years one can serve on the board.

Expectations of Becoming Chair: It is becoming more common that boards will only recruit candidates who express interest in becoming board chair in the future and who have, or will develop through board experience, the competencies and skills to take on the chair role. Ask if they are interested in becoming chair down the road.

Here are some unexpected questions that may be asked by candidates that you should prepare for heading into interviews.

Financials: Typically candidates do their homework in advance of interviews, but make sure there is someone on the recruitment committee that can speak knowledgably about your organization’s financials.

Board Evaluation: This is an important board responsibility and experienced candidates will want to know that the board is evaluating itself in order to continually improve and better serve the organization. If you do not have a board evaluation program, put it on your board’s to-do list!

Professional Development: Candidates may wish to know what professional development opportunities there are for board members. Does the board bring in experts to learn about specific issues or topics? Is individual or group training provided for gaps that are identified through board evaluation?

Directors and Officers Insurance: Many candidates will ask if the organization has D&O insurance. Know and share your coverage details.

Pending Lawsuits: If there are any pending lawsuits against your organization, be ready to share as much detail as you can publicly if you are asked. Reassure them again that D&O insurance is in place.

Remember that not only is your organization interviewing candidates, but the candidates are also interviewing you and your organization as well! Be as prepared as possible to ensure your organization is putting its best foot forward.


Heather Terrence is President of Pinpoint Governance Group and is a governance specialist and Certified Association Executive (CAE) with over 20 years of experience in non-profit organizations.