nonprofits rely on knowledgeable, experienced board members to lead them to success. So, what happens when you can’t find the right people to sit on your board?
In a 2015 study, BoardSource found that only 73% of chief nonprofit executives believe they have the right board members to support their organizations — that means 27% (almost one third) of executives aren’t so confident in their board.
Nonprofit managers face the challenge of building a highly-skilled and well-rounded board, full of talented candidates who can propel the organization’s goals forward. Follow these guidelines to set yourself up for success when selecting and recruiting members for your nonprofit board.
Evaluate Your Current Board
The first step is to examine the existing members of your board and their skillsets. Your nonprofit’s board should function more like a chess set than a checkers set. In other words, each member should bring his or her own unique skills to the game. A diverse group of experts can work together to form a formidable team, diminishing each other’s weaknesses and complementing each other’s strengths.
That means, when recruiting a brand new board member, the first step is to ask what your nonprofit needs to advance its position. What skills, traits, or strengths is your board currently lacking? Perhaps you need a board member with legal experience to help you navigate tax complications. Maybe you need someone with financial expertise to better budget your funding.
Once you’ve identified the gaps in your team, you can narrow your search for the right board members to fill those gaps.
Create a Nominating Committee
Recruitment starts with vetting a large pool of candidates, and then pursuing the best fits. To make the vetting process easier, most boards create an ongoing “nominating” committee — a group of key people who help track down the best talent for the organization. If your nonprofit is still within its formative months, now is the perfect time to create a group of advisors who can help assess the skills needed on your board. Place your best-connected board members within this committee.
Ask your nominating committee to review a pool of qualified people, and identify the most suitable candidates. This will not only narrow your current search, but also helps to keep your pipeline full moving forward, so you won’t have to worry about empty seats. Look For the Characteristics of a Great Board Member
Skills and talents are important to any nonprofit board, but they’re not the only traits to consider. If you want to excel as a nonprofit, you need to make sure each board member shares a collection of specific characteristics.
While skillsets and values can vary, a truly great board member will always have:
- Passion for the mission: Nothing is more important than a board member’s commitment to the nonprofit mission. Ask each candidate why he or she is devoted to your cause. The answer should show an authentic interest and personal stake in the success of the mission
- Expertise: Every board member should have a particular area of expertise to bring to the table; one that complements and balances the expertise of the other members
- Philanthropic history: Nonprofits often consider the past financial support of the organization as a requirement for board member status. Even if this isn’t a requirement for your nonprofit, a good candidate will have a history of philanthropic involvement in some cause.
- Willingness to advocate: All board members should feel comfortable promoting the nonprofit to colleagues, friends, family, and the public.
- Ability to lead and to cooperate: A great board member must show a balance between leadership skills and the ability to work smoothly in a group. Board members will often work on significant projects, fundraisers, and committees together — and various team members will take lead for different projects.
- Diversity: A successful nonprofit board will feature diversity across candidates’ backgrounds, expertise, and skills. This provides a more comprehensive skillset for the entire team, and enhances the team’s ability to gather and foster new ideas. Without a diverse team, your board will likely struggle to face new challenges, or push innovation for your organization.
Retain Your Existing Board Members
Finding the most appropriate members for your nonprofit board is one thing — making sure they stick around is another. Once you have an all-star team on your board, think carefully about how you can retain these people for the future. These are the experts that can help determine whether your nonprofit succeeds or fails in the long run. Although you may not be able to pay your board members for their services, you can install programs to financially incentivize key members with
future retirement and/or life insurance benefits if they met certain goals and objectives, which should help encourage them to remain devoted working for the cause.
The more you show your board members that you value them, the more likely they are to offer
you rewards in the form of their dedication and commitment.