Jeopardy’ for nonprofits

Effective board service requires getting the questions right.

By Michael Guillot

My favorite game show is “Jeopardy.”

The best part about it is that all the answers are given to you; you just have to get the right question to score points.

Many board members and executives find themselves in the same situation – knowing all the answers but never getting the right questions that can make all the difference.

You’ve heard all the answers: “Give, get, or get off;” “We want people with expertise;” “We want diversity;” “We want people who will do something;” and so on.

But what are the right questions?

Well, here’s how to get some points on the board.

Many of the essential “right” questions come from knowing your status as an organization.

You can’t ask board members to do anything without understanding the question: Is your organization in a founding, organizing, or governing stage?

Organizations in their infancy need founding board members to dream the big dream and do everything.

Those organizations reaching stability need board members who will share that dream with a few well-chosen staff members and do whatever it takes to spread the word.

Governing boards need members who don’t worry about the day-to-day and spend their time connecting the dream to the community.

So, where are you now as an organization?

If you’re just getting started, find board members who share your passion. Ask your board members to roll up their sleeves and do everything they can to get you established and on solid footing. Recruit members who will work.

If you’ve got some staff and are not worried about next month’s payroll, it’s time to shape your board in the form of expertise and connections.

Ask your board members to be great ambassadors – telling the story of your mission and vision to everyone they know. Recruit members who will expand your network.

If you’re well on your way with years of service and credibility, then it’s time to move your board into local impact. Ask your board members to engage the public through philanthropy – inviting leaders to invest in your future. Recruit members who will change your community.

On “Jeopardy,” knowing the right questions is all that matters.

Regardless if you are in the founding, organizing or governing stage, once you know your status as an organization, the answers are already on the board.


Michael Guillot is director of development for the WakeMed Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.

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