You may look forward to board meetings as much as a visit to the dentist. In my experience, most board members are good people who know next to nothing about nonprofit governance. Yet, your board is the most valuable leadership asset your nonprofit has. Board members teach the community how to interact with your agency. And the board is where an infectious fundraising culture starts.
It all starts with recruitment. How do you identify good board members? How do you know when you meet someone who would make an excellent board candidate? What are their characteristics? How do you make sure you have board members who help, not hinder, your work?
Identifying Potential Board Members
In today’s world, diversity, equity, and inclusion are ruling principles in board recruitment. You want diversity in all the ways your board can be diverse, including:
- Marital status
- Family makeup
Rather than recruiting your friends, family, and co-workers or those of your current board members to fill board vacancies, develop a matrix of the attributes desired in board members that reflects the makeup of your ideal board. Then fill in the matrix with current board membership information. What’s missing describes the type of people you want to recruit for board service.
Hopefully, you are not the one doing all this work. Ideally, your board committee structure includes a governance committee or nominating committee or subcommittee that does the bulk of the work. You need to be involved for sure. But it is the governance or nominating chair who takes the lead.
Always interview prospective board members—you and a member of the board. You want to make sure that the prospect is as good in person and on paper, interested in the job, capable of carrying out board member duties, and willing to take on the legal and fiduciary responsibilities of board membership.
Initially Approaching Potential Board Members
Just like with potential donors, the goal of your initial contact is not to get them to say ‘yes’. Instead, the goal of your initial conversation is to connect, find information, and get a better understanding of one another. You start the recruitment process by building a relationship based on trust, respect, and mutual interest in furthering your organization’s mission.
So, during the first interaction ask questions and listen more than you talk. The introductory meeting is not the time to promote your nonprofit. It is a time to learn more about them. Find out what makes them tick and what their values are. You want to connect with them on their values. Connecting with people on values builds camaraderie and a shared interest in success. That’s a great foundation on which to build a board member-executive director relationship.
Listen, actively listen, to them. Active listening requires you to be wholly involved in and fully present for during the conversation. You pay attention to what the speaker is saying, verbally and nonverbally, not planning on what you’re going to say next. During the interaction, face the potential board member and maintain eye contact. Focus entirely on what they are saying. Give them 100 percent of your attention. Get to know them. There will be time later for you to promote your nonprofit.
A good board member is committed to the cause. Provide opportunities for volunteers to be involved with your nonprofit and look for those who are dedicated and committed to your nonprofit’s mission. A good proving ground for potential board members are committees and subcommittees where the community can be involved—perhaps on a development, volunteer, or marketing committee.
Characteristics of Good Board Members
You don’t want just anybody on your board. You want someone with leadership skills who can guide and influence others. It is important that board members be able to fulfill their role as mission ambassadors of the organization and can draw others in. Your goal is to grow your nonprofit’s influence and impact in the community.
You also want to recruit people who are straightforward and impartial. As an executive director, you need strong board member support. And that starts with good communication. Start creating open lines of communication from the beginning. Choose people who will promote good communication and decision-making.
Look for people with an insatiable desire to learn, who are inquisitive, realizing that they do not know everything. You want people who are open to the ideas of others and will function as part of a team.
You must have board members who value discretion and confidentiality. This trait is particularly important when the organization is faced with delicate situations. In addition, you want to build trust among board members, so they feel free to express their thoughts.
Board members should be of good character, beyond reproach. You want to keep your nonprofit’s good reputation intact.
To avoid unnecessary conflict, you want people who can fit into your agency’s culture. You don’t want a maverick who comes in with a mindset of automatically changing the way things are done. There is often good reason why things are done the way they are. Be cognizant of and communicate your organizational culture to board prospects.
And you want board members who are willing to use their personal and professional resources to advance the mission. This doesn’t mean asking them to share their contact list with you. It means they need to be willing to make important connections that only they can make. Which means that connections are made deliberately and with forethought, not en masse.
Wrapping It Up
Functional boards are birthed in the recruitment process. When board vacancies need filling, don’t just go after anyone. Proceed with intention and forethought. Identify the types of board members your nonprofit needs, interview suitable candidates, and choose those who exhibit passion for the cause, leadership attributes, good communication skills, inquisitiveness, the ability to keep confidence, good character, fit into the culture, and are networked. No, it’s not easy. And it requires work. But you end up with a highly valued organizational asset that is way worth the investment.
Learn more about board relations, especially in relation to fundraising, in my new book The ROI Mindset: How to Raise More Money with the Budget You Have. Get your copy today!