Qualifications to Serve on a Board of Directors

bizfluent article image

Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

bizfluent article image

George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The board of directors is responsible for overseeing how an organization carries out its mission and vision. They make key decisions about budget, programs and services as well as review the performance of the chief officer. Because of the great responsibility the board shoulders, qualifications to sit on a board of directors are complex and vary by the seat for which a person is applying.

Defining Qualifications to Sit on a Board of Directors

Every nonprofit or for-profit organization needs to define board of directors qualifications and disqualifications based on its mission and vision. Writing out clear expectations and job descriptions for every role is integral to attracting suitable applicants and ensures that people know what they are signing up for should they be accepted to the board. This also protects the organization by helping ensure that board members are actively working and are not simply seat warmers.

Nonprofit Versus For-Profit Boards

The qualifications for boards of directors for nonprofits are quite similar to the qualifications of for-profit corporation boards. The main difference is that board members in for-profit corporations are typically paid, while nonprofit board members are often unpaid. Therefore, nonprofit board members usually need to have a passion for the organization's cause and a willingness to work for free.

Education and Professional Experience

Board members must possess a proven educational and professional track record in their area of expertise. This means that the board's legal expert is usually a practicing lawyer who understands areas of the law that impact the organization. The finance chair is an accredited accountant familiar with financial laws and regulations that impact the organization. The marketing chair has a college education and works professionally in social media or marketing, and so on.

Professional and Personal Connections

One of the roles of the board of directors is to broaden the reach of the organization or corporation. Because of this, it helps to be a respected leader in the field who has connections to people in many circles. Politicians, pastors, partners in law firms, pioneering entrepreneurs, public speakers and others in similar leadership roles are often excellent candidates for the board because of how they connect potential donors or investors to the organization.

Investment of Time and Money

Willingness to invest paid or unpaid time into the organization is one of the most important qualifications to sit on a board of directors. Board members must be present at board meetings, assigned committee meetings, important functions and events and must review board documents between meetings. Many nonprofit board members are also required to give or get a certain amount of money per year to sit on the board, so they spend a decent amount of time fundraising for the organization.

Integrity and Background Check

Qualifications to sit on a board of directors typically include signing an agreement to live a life of integrity as well as submitting to a background check. Some faith-based nonprofits require board members to maintain a vital spiritual life or belong to a religious congregation.

Background checks are necessary for safety reasons, but some nonprofits specializing in human trafficking, drug rehabilitation, gang member outreach or other sensitive areas allow survivor board members who have had legal issues in the past. Evidence of living a healthy life in the present may be requested, including character references, psychological evaluations and specialized training.

Conflicts of Interest

Board of directors qualifications and disqualifications typically address conflicts of interest. Because the board reviews the performance of the chief officer, this person is usually not a voting member of the board yet is included in meetings and has a voice. Family members are often seen as conflicts of interest, and many boards do not allow spouses to sit on the same board. Some contracts also include a provision that a board member cannot sit on more than two to three boards at once.