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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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New Kid on the Block? Interview Your Board Members
Terry Axelrod

March, 2015

As a relatively new development staff member, you may have been putting off the inevitable: talking with each of your board members. After all, it’s awkward. They knew your predecessor. Whether they liked him or not, you have inherited that place in their minds. Your job now is to establish your own relationship with them.

The executive director has paved the way. She introduced you at the most recent board meeting and told everyone you would be calling on them individually to get acquainted.

Now what?

Pick up the phone and call to schedule a thirty minute interview with each board member. This will be the most important thirty minutes you spend with each of them. You will establish your own relationship with them and reconnect them to their passion for your organization.

Our Treasure Map Interviews help you begin your own dialog with each board member (or staff member or volunteer). This series of painless, open-ended questions will get the other person talking and, if you listen closely to their responses, you will set the path for a long and satisfying relationship with them.

While it is not necessary to ask every one of these questions, you will find that they follow a natural progression, so that, whether you ask them or not, each question will get answered in the course of the conversation. It is simplest, however, to let each board member know in advance that, since you are new on the job and have many new people to meet, you have a few questions you will be asking. They will appreciate the structure to the session and, once you get going and they realize the questions are all about them, they will thoroughly enjoy the process.

Be sure to take good notes on their responses so that you can follow up to respond to any concerns or questions they may have raised.


1. “Tell me a little about how you came to be involved with the organization. In other words, tell me your story.” People love to tell their stories, especially to a newcomer like you. Listen closely and enjoy—this may be treasured organizational “lore.” It will also give you rich clues as to this person’s deeper motivation for being connected to your work.

2. “What is it about your association with the organization that you most value?” This will get them talking about the “good stuff” and remind them of the deeper mission. They will often share a very personal connection here. Let them talk.

3. “Where do you think the organization is missing the boat?” Here is where they should tell you some of their pet peeves. Generally they have told these to others before you, but they haven’t given up. They are still determined to change or improve the organization in this arena. Even if you can do nothing to “fix it,” it will be helpful to you as you move forward to know where they stand.

4. “Is there any other way you would like to be involved? I see you have been on the Strategic Planning Committee for the last two years. Are there any other parts of our work that interest you?”

5. “How do you think we could be doing a better job of telling our story?” More pet peeves will emerge here. “I wish we would stop spending so much money on that fancy gala and just bring people to the office to talk with the director and tour the place.”

6. “What could we do to involve more people?” Be sure to save this question for last. By this point, each person has had enough time to talk that they will likely offer to connect you with other individuals or groups they have in mind. Take good notes here and be sure to set up how you are to contact these people.

Thank them sincerely for their time and let them know you will follow up with anything you promised to do.

If you interview one board member per week, in the course of three months or so, you will be feeling much more connected to the organization’s key players. You will have established your own relationship with each board member. You will have begun the dialogue.

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon and author of The Benevon Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right and Missionizing Your Special Events. Benevon is a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofit teams to build sustainable funding from individual donors.


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