Having the right board members with the right skill set helps your nonprofit achieve its strategic goals. Before throwing out names, think about what your organization needs, your short term goals and your long term vision. Then plug in, or start looking for, the right candidates to help you get the job done.
The first questions that nonprofit boards should consider as they start to formulate their board recruitment plan are:
- What are our strategic priorities?
- What skills or expertise do we need on our board to help us achieve those priorities?
- Who are we now ?
- Who do we want to be in the community in the next five years?
A board matrix is a simple and flexible too to help you get started. Download this tool to assess your current board (.xlsx or PDF) and identify gaps in your board composition. You can use the findings to guide board member recruitment and ultimately enable you to create a diverse and well-rounded board of directors.
Why is it so difficult to find Board Members?
There are a number of barriers to obtaining board members – real and perceived.
We don’t exactly make it ‘fun and rewarding’. Rather than directly involving board members in mission-related, exciting programs that change our community and the world, we ask that they attend mind-numbingly boring meetings where they’re expected to pour over report minutiae and listen to one or two people drone on…and on…and on. They are rarely if ever provided with a proper orientation or given a board member job description detailing their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. They’re not clear about what they’re supposed to do and aren’t given any direction to clarify their involvement. Does this sound like fun to you?
Provide board members with a proper orientation including job description and clear expectations. Give direction and feedback on a regular basis to help illustrate progress and how things are getting done in your organization. Don’t forget about regular board training to help remind longer term board members about policies and help newer board members add to their knowledge.
The usual suspects . . . again and again. This goes back to the question of “Who do we know?” It’s interesting that so many Executive Directors complain about their boards, but expect to get a completely different result relying on board members to recruit their friends. People usually associate with those who are similar to themselves.
Be clear about skill set you need to run the organization and choose from there. Identify specific gaps in your board’s makeup that might be crucial to running your organization. This is where the matrix will be a big help.
Lack of diversity. Nonprofit boards tend to be homogeneous and sadly lacking the diversity reflected in their service communities. A recent report by The Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy finds that boards are overwhelmingly made up of non-Hispanic whites and individuals between the ages of 35 to 65. The same report sounds a strong caution against recruiting people simply because they are friends (or relatives) of current board members.
Mirror who you serve. Diversity is going to look different in every community. Define diversity for you and how the community can connect to your cause.
Too much, too little, too late, too confusing. We often expect too much from too few board members, provide little if any training, development and/or direction, and don’t communicate specific needs. In my own experience as a board member, I’ve either felt completely forgotten about with no communication at all for months at a time, or over-worked to the tune of 8-10 hours per week. Is it any wonder board turnover is so high?
If you’re losing 2-3 board members a year for reasons that have nothing to do with term limits, ask why. Are you over- or under-working them? Do you treat them with dignity and respect? Are you managing meetings well so that they’re interesting, productive, and dare I say . . . occasionally fun? Invest in the proverbial care and feeding of board members with ongoing training, occasional check-ins, evaluations and thank yous (see below). Invest in your board members and they will invest it right back into your organization.
We haven’t made a compelling case for rewarding board service. Type in “Nonprofit board scandal” in Google and you’ll have an evening’s worth of reading. Think for a minute…when was the last time you read about a board doing something awesome and amazing in the news?
Look to your successes and find a board member that can help you communicate your WHY. Start with your clear mission and don’t be shy about what you’ve done for the community or the specific group you serve. If you are lucky enough to have an staff member in outreach or marketing, use their expertise to help you toot your own horn a little bit more. Board members will be excited to work with such a successful organization.
It’s a thankless job . . . literally. I’ve served on a variety of boards for close to thirty years now, and I’ve never been thanked by either the board chair or the Executive Director for my service. Unfortunately, my experience is typical. As a former Executive Director, I made sure that thanking and acknowledging my board members was a high priority, regardless of whether I occasionally disagreed with a board member’s perspective or if I felt that some were under-performing.
Board members are volunteers and their time is valuable; if you’re not thanking your board members (or your program volunteers, for that matter) on a regular basis – with sincerity – don’t be surprised if your organization cannot retain them. Everybody likes to be thanked for his/her contribution. It’s free and easy to do so at a meeting, with a phone call or email.
Pro tip: Want to go the extra mile? Head to your local drug store, pick up a package of Thank You cards and get out your favorite pen.
A handwritten note of gratitude goes a long way in this digital age.
Managing a board is important if you want to see success at your non profit. Your board link s you to the community, they are crucial to fundraising, they are your sounding board and they help you get things done. Adding a recruitment strategy, setting expectations, putting just a little time into training and a little more time into appreciation will build a rock-solid support team.