Recruiting board members for your nonprofit board of directors can be challenging. Some folks turn to friends and family, their volunteers, or services like Boardable.
The role of a nonprofit board of directors is to provide governance and leadership for your organization. As a general rule, the board is responsible for setting overall strategy, making key decisions, and ensuring that the nonprofit operates in alignment with its mission. However, the roles and responsibilities can change depending on needs and should be outlined in your nonprofit’s bylaws.
Regardless of where you turn to recruit, there are some basic qualities and characteristics to look for when recruiting board members for your nonprofit.
Recruiting Board Members: Qualifications and Characteristics
There are a few qualities and qualifications to think about when you are trying to recruit new board members. People with certain skills or characteristics can help ensure they are a good fit for the job.
A strong desire to support the mission and values of your organization will help you find board members that are focused and feel compelled to go the distance.
Keep an open mind when thinking about what passion looks like – some may have a passion for the work you’re doing while others may feel passionate about giving back to their community in a broader sense or leaving a legacy.
Collaboration is more than simply being able to work together. When your board is truly collaborative, members feel comfortable expressing themselves, pitching a new idea, or bringing solutions to the table.
Board members who excel in collaboration also seek to understand best practices related to running and participating in an engaging and productive board meeting. When recruiting board members for your nonprofit, it is critical to consider whether or not they are willing and able to gain a sufficient understanding of parliamentary procedures.
Your board members live full lives outside of your boardroom so it’s important to ensure that board meetings – which are, by nature, collaborative events that determine the goals and strategies for your nonprofit – are well spent.
When recruiting board members, it’s important to consider those who have enthusiasm for your cause PLUS the time to participate.
Board members who are not committed to multiple other projects, who can take time off to attend meetings or fundraise, and who can financially contribute to your cause are of better value than a board member with high visibility who can’t commit to being present and active.
Board members should be from different industries, backgrounds, and demographics – otherwise, your run the risk of eliminating creativity and innovation from the room.
Diversity is not just something to check off – diverse backgrounds and demographics drive innovation thanks to the variety of perspectives, opinions, and suggestions. Studies have shown that recruiting board members from diverse backgrounds lead to better financial performance and deeper connections and collaborations within the boardroom.
Furthermore, board members with various careers across various industries (think videographers, copywriters, marketers, researchers, etc.) can provide your board with skillsets your staff may not have along with fresh “out of the box” ideas.
And lastly, it is important for the board to reflect the community they serve. If your board provides goods and services to single mothers who have just given birth, yet no one on your board has gone through childbirth or raised a baby on their own, it’s unlikely you can truly understand the needs of the community you serve.
One of the most fundamental responsibilities of a board is to develop, approve, and support the strategy of your organization. However, purpose-driven strategic planning continues to be one area that boards need to improve upon.
The good news is that strategic planning within the nonprofit sector is starting to shift away from the traditional long-term planning process and into frameworks. These frameworks usually define the priorities of the organizations, operational and financial goals, and a robust annual plan that features more clearly defined timelines and performance metrics.
Purpose-driven strategic planning requires clarity and foresight, but you may be surprised to learn that it also requires diversity. A purpose-driven board understands the need to include and amplify folks from the communities they serve in order to have a greater impact.
We included this as a bonus. If potential board members exhibit all of the above characteristics but lack extensive business experience, that should never preclude them from the board.
Financial knowledge can help ensure that your board members understand the business side of running a nonprofit and how to remain fiscally solvent. This knowledge can be an asset – but it doesn’t beat out passion and mindset.
Recruiting Board Members Starts with an Understanding of the Roles
Understanding the roles of board members can help in the recruiting process. Potential board members may ask what the expectation of the role is or what the time commitment is like.
Boards often have two basic types of members:
- Those that are on the board “by right,” due to their job title or position (not all boards have this).
- Those that are nominated or elected to serve on the board (most boards have these).
Regardless of membership, the role of the nonprofit board is to act as a steward of the organization, providing leadership and guidance to help the organization fulfill its mission.
More specific roles may include:
- Setting policies that guide the organization
- Approving budgets and checking finances to ensure they are managed in a responsible and transparent manner
- Hiring and evaluating the CEO or executive director
- Ensuring compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements
- Overseeing fundraising efforts and ensuring that the funds raised are used in accordance with the mission
- Fostering community support by building and maintaining relationships with donors, volunteers, staff, and community leaders
- Providing oversight to ensure that the organization is fulfilling its mission and achieving its goals
Consider creating a packet of information for each role that includes their responsibilities, expectations related to meetings, financial contributions, and event attendance, and their fiduciary responsibilities. Setting clear expectations when recruiting board members ensures that your board members are set up for success.
Board Recruiting Considerations
Because of the vital role of a board, you’ll want to think carefully about the people you recruit to serve your nonprofit organization.
Start by defining the roles and responsibilities of the board. This might include a simple “job description” for each board role and what their duties will be. This will help you select individuals who are best suited for the position.
Each of those seats or roles might come with specific skills and experience that are needed for success. Look for individuals who have expertise in areas such as finance, fundraising, marketing, and governance.
Set a plan for recruiting and succession. Outline how you will identify potential board members and how you will engage with them. Consider reaching out to professional networks, seeking recommendations from current board members and staff, and advertising the opportunity on your website and social media channels.
Create a committee or team to evaluate potential candidates. This committee should review resumes and conduct interviews. Make sure to ask questions about their passion for the cause, experience, and willingness to commit to the time, effort, and financial obligation (if required) to be an effective board member.
When selecting board members, keep diversity at the forefront. A diverse board can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table, which can enhance your ability to serve the community.
How to Ask Someone to Join a Nonprofit Board
You are probably used to making asks as part of a nonprofit team, but recruiting a board member can require a different approach. You want to make the ask in a way that both highlights the value the individual will bring to the team as well as emphasize the importance of the role.
Always be honest about time or financial commitments with board members so that people are not surprised later and understand the full obligation.
Other tips for making the ask include:
- Personalize your approach: Establish a personal connection with the individual you are approaching. Share your passion for the cause and explain why you believe they would be a good fit for the board.
- Be clear about the commitment: Explain the responsibilities and time commitment involved in being a board member. Be transparent about what is expected and what the individual can expect to gain from their involvement.
- Highlight the impact: Emphasize the positive impact that the organization is making and the role the board plays in helping to achieve its goals.
- Provide information: Provide the individual with information about the organization, including its mission, history, programs, and financials. Also, provide information about the board’s role and responsibilities, meeting schedule, and expectations.
- Make it easy for them to say yes: Offer to answer any questions and provide additional information. If possible, schedule a tour or arrange for them to meet with current board members to help them get a better understanding of what is involved.
- Be respectful of their decision: Regardless of the outcome, thank them for considering the opportunity.
You shouldn’t have to look too far for nonprofit board candidates. They are likely already active in your organization and might be ready to take on a larger role.
Recruiting may start with some of your strongest donors, key volunteers, or community members that show support and interest in your group. Other potential board members could come from strategic partners for your nonprofit that have backgrounds of skills that can help your group such as legal or accounting.
Remember, the ask is always easier if a potential board member is already active and familiar with your organization.
About the Author
Carrie Cousins has more than 15 years of experience in media, design, and content marketing. She’s a writer and designer, has an MBA from Virginia Tech, and is passionate about creating amazing experiences for businesses online. Her work has been featured in publications such as Design Shack, Webdesigner Depot, The Next Web, and Fast Company. She's an avid runner, which comes in handy with a trio of Australian shepherds at home.