In the nonprofit world, board members are critical to the organization's success. These key people help steer the nonprofit toward a sustainable future through ethical, diplomatic, and legal governance, as well as financial management. They are responsible for hiring and setting the compensation of the CEO or executive director and supervising activities of the nonprofit to ensure it’s fulfilling its mission in the best possible way.
Navigating a search for new board members should not be taken lightly. This can be a lengthy and time-consuming process, but finding the right person is essential to creating a functional and efficient board.
We’ve rounded up a few tips and best practices to use as a guide when seeking potential board members for your nonprofit.
What Should I Look for in Potential Board Members?
With such a pivotal role in a nonprofit organization, think about professionalizing your board with candidates with specific areas of expertise. For example, someone who spends their days marketing can help your organization create brand strategy and identity. Another individual might specialize in developing long-term strategic plans. It’s essential to seek out candidates also who have:
- Passion and Interpersonal Skills
All board candidates should have some knowledge of the nonprofit sector, passion for the cause your organization serves, interpersonal skills – as this person will be a representative of the organization, and a commitment to the role (whether it’s paid or, more frequently, an unpaid position). Most importantly, the board member should be a positive advocate of your organization and work to reflect your organization’s mission, vision, and values.
- Connections to the Cause and Community
Additionally, board candidates with other connections to the community or areas of expertise are a plus. Access to an extensive network, including local leaders and someone with professional relationships, can be an excellent resource for any organization.
- A Basic Understanding of Finances
A background in fiscal management is another important quality in a board candidate. A basic understanding of finances, including the ability to understand balance sheets, profit and loss statements, audit reviews, and cash flow analysis, is helpful for everyone who considers a future in board service.
- Dedication to the Mission
Above all, a potential board member being considered must be passionate and knowledgeable in the cause your nonprofit serves. While your candidate may not have an all-encompassing skill set, one who has a passion for what they do can make all the difference. Board members who serve a nonprofit with purpose and enjoy what they do will be dedicated to ensuring its success in achieving its mission.
- Well-Rounded in Experience and Skills
As you seek out potential board members, focus on those who are well-rounded in both experience and skill sets. Skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and innovation can assist in providing your board with the tools they need to be successful. It’s important to note that a candidate might not be skilled in everything, but having a board diverse in skill sets ensures each area of governance has someone to execute. Diversity in experience, age, background, and skills all help reflect the community a nonprofit serves.
Where Should I Look for Board Members Willing to Serve?
Philanthropic individuals and those willing to serve on a board don’t always raise their hand to volunteer. They may not know you’re looking for a board member or think they don’t have what it takes to serve.
Post Board Positions
When you look for a board member, don’t just fill the seats at the table with anyone. Now more than ever, board members can be from any geographic location as long as they can join meetings and participate in collaborative exercises.
Creating a board position description, similar to a job description, enables your organization to focus on ideal skills to create a highly-functional board. While you might be able to recruit friends of current members or others you know to serve on the board, if they’re not contributing to the overall strategic assets of the board, you’re doing your organization a disservice. Providing potential board members with a description helps set expectations and commitment levels, even if you don’t post your position to a job board or related service. It can also help with recruiting, as current board members and staff can share it through their professional networks. See the next section for a sample posting.
Consider casting a wider net to find individuals through the following channels:
- Nonprofit Job Board: Consider posting your board role to a nonprofit volunteer and job boards, such as Impact Opportunity and Idealist. This makes it easy for candidates to find your nonprofit and expands the search outside your current member or nominating committee’s purview.
- Your Current Network: Believe it or not, each current board member’s network is larger than they might think, and it is a great place to start. Some of your current volunteers may make excellent board members if they bring the skills you need and the passion for your mission they have already shown. These volunteers or donors may also have recommendations for candidates willing and excited to serve the board, including those who bring the specific skills and experience your organization needs to lead it into the future.
- Other Organizations: Local organizations, such as area United Way chapters, universities with divisions or schools dedicated to similar causes, or volunteer centers that focus on developing effective board members, can be ripe with resources and potential board members to consider for your nonprofit board.
- Other Channels: Communicate that you’re on the hunt for board members through channels your newsletter, local news media, your website, and social channels.
- Search Firms: Another option for your recruiting strategy is hiring an executive search firm. Hiring a recruiting team allows you to benefit from a recruiter’s expertise in, and networks for, finding the right candidates for the right positions. Kathleen Yazbak, Founder of Viewcrest Advisors, says, “some organizations hire search firms to run full searches to find new board members. Other times the board or CEO/Executive Director works with a search firm to conduct research that allows them to identify potential board member candidates and leaders with specific skills or experience needed. We often see search firms get involved when an organization is scaling and wants to get out of its current natural networks, as those may not be the networks for where they want to go in the future, only where they've been.”
A Sample Board Position Description to Help Get You Started
Job boards are a great way to diversify your nonprofit board. By utilizing nonprofit job boards, you can reach a wider audience than relying solely on your connections. Formal job descriptions also allow you to list the qualifications and expectations the board member will need to meet.
Below is a sample board position description that you can customize to meet your organization’s needs. Visit BoardSource for lots of great information on roles and responsibilities of board members as well as other great board of director resources.
Sample Nonprofit Board Job Description
Member of the Board of Directors
XYZ Nonprofit’s mission is to…
For more information, please XYZ’s website at www.xyz.org.
The Board will support the work of XYZ and provide mission-based leadership and strategic governance. While day-to-day operations are led by XYZ’s chief executive officer (CEO), the Board-CEO relationship is a partnership, and the appropriate involvement of the Board is critical and expected. Specific Board Member responsibilities include:
Leadership, governance, and oversight
- Serving as a trusted advisor to the CEO as s/he develops and implements XYZ’s strategic plan
- Reviewing outcomes and metrics created by XYZ for evaluating its impact and regularly measuring its performance and effectiveness using those metrics; reviewing agenda and supporting materials before board and committee meetings
- Approving XYZ’s annual budget, audit reports, and material business decisions; being informed of and meeting all legal and fiduciary responsibilities
- Contributing to an annual performance evaluation of the CEO
- Assisting the CEO and board chair in identifying and recruiting other Board Members
- Partnering with the CEO and other board members to ensure that board resolutions are carried out
- Serving on committees or task forces and taking on special assignments
- Representing XYZ to stakeholders; acting as an ambassador for the organization
- Ensuring XYZ’s commitment to a diverse board and staff that reflects the communities XYZ serves
XYZ Board Members will consider XYZ a philanthropic priority and make annual gifts that reflect that priority. So that XYZ can credibly solicit contributions from foundations, organizations, and individuals, XYZ expects to have 100 percent of Board Members make an annual contribution commensurate with their capacity.
XYZ’s Board Members will serve a three-year term to be eligible for re-appointment for one additional term. Board meetings will be held quarterly, and committee meetings will be coordinated with full board meetings.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for an individual passionate about XYZ’s mission and with a track record of board leadership. Selected Board Members will have achieved leadership stature in business, government, philanthropy, or the nonprofit sector. Their accomplishments will allow them to attract other well-qualified, high-performing Board Members.
Ideal candidates will have the following qualifications:
- Extensive professional experience with significant executive leadership accomplishments in business, government, philanthropy, or the nonprofit sector
- A commitment to and understanding of XYZ’s beneficiaries, preferably based on experience
- Savvy diplomatic skills and a natural affinity for cultivating relationships and persuading, convening, facilitating, and building consensus among diverse individuals
- Personal qualities of integrity, credibility, and a passion for improving the lives of XYZ’s beneficiaries
Service on XYZ’s Board of Directors is without remuneration, except for administrative support, travel, and accommodation costs in relation to Board Members’ duties.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Kristen Curtis and Karen Butterfield of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm, for their work in writing this article.