How to Be a Good Board Member: 7 Must-Have Traits

Eric Jokinen
Eric Jokinen

All right – you’re jumping hurdles and filing the paperwork to incorporate your nonprofit, but you suddenly hit a roadblock: you need to select a board. Or let’s say that your organization launched with a board comprised of friends, but their interest is fading as they discover how much is expected of them, and you’re ready to design a better board.

Watch our video series here to learn how to teach your board the basics of nonprofit fundraising.

The following seven qualities are key traits to look for as you choose the board members that will take your organization into the future.

1. Passion

As explained by, “If [board members] do not care deeply about the very purpose of the organization, their value is minimal.” Your organization isn’t in it for the money, so the incentive for many supporters is the sense of fulfillment they get from supporting a worthy cause – one they feel strongly connected to.

When interviewing board members, look for those that have either worked for a similar cause in the past or that genuinely seem emotionally engaged with the mission.

2. Experience

Those that have extensive experience relevant to your organization, preferably as leaders, will make the best board members. Since your board members will govern your entire organization, including top executives, it is important that they have enough experience to make wise choices, but also to be seen by others as credible.

3. Time

Many people will agree to serve as a board member without realizing how much of their time it will consume. Aside from regular meetings, board members are expected to also take charge of at least one committee or project. That’s why, according to, each board member must be able to make “a serious commitment to participate actively in the work of [their committees].” If a candidate isn’t willing to treat the position like a true job, is stretched too thin, or is only agreeing to serve to fluff out their resume, don’t choose that person.

4. Professional skills

Because board members are responsible for high-level governance, it’s best to have a few who understand sophisticated legal, financial, or business issues. You don’t want a board with only professionals, but having a few will ensure that your organization is successful, not just from an operational perspective, but from administrative and regulatory perspectives as well.

5. Attentiveness

A good board member is, “[A]lert to signs of trouble – financial trouble, management trouble, operational trouble, personnel trouble, litigation trouble, or IRS trouble. And, when signs of trouble are observed, effective board members take steps to resolve the trouble,” according to Thompson & Thompson.

Board members can’t be asleep at the wheel and waiting for things to be fed to them. You’ll need people that actively monitor your organization so that you stay ahead of problems instead of always being in a reactive “crisis mode.”

6. & 7. Toughness & Collegiality

Your board members have to be ready to take on tough issues and work through conflicts, but they also need to be respectful and inspire collaboration. These qualities need to be in balance, and you will need to find individuals that are comfortable being in healthy conflicts with others, but who can ultimately achieve resolutions and keep working relationships intact.

Your board should ultimately be made up of people with complementary qualities. Not every individual will have the above traits, but if you build a diverse team of people, as recommended by Nolo, your organization will have a robust resource that will lead it to success.

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