Board Effectiveness Begins With Recruiting

I have served as a volunteer on and consulted with a variety of boards throughout my career. When evaluating the success of the nonprofit, a key variable is always the effectiveness of the nonprofit’s board membership. The Taproot Foundation believes an effective nonprofit board of directors helps to guide an organization, promotes innovation and supports long-term success. Four qualities of the ideal board include having board members experienced in critical service areas, focused on governance and advising, diverse in background and skills, plus comfortable in generating financial and nonfinancial resources.

When determining how to recruit the right board members for your nonprofit, NonProfit PRO research found that a top challenge for 41% of nonprofits is “recruiting quality board members who are passionate about the nonprofit’s cause.” To build an effective board, a recruitment process needs to be in place that defines the needs and expectations of the board member candidate, finds the right candidate through a precise, wide-reaching recruiting process, screens and selects your new board member and orients your new board member properly. Recruitment is a profoundly serious endeavor.

At times, organizations fail to secure the right potential leaders for their boards, and they suffer for it. A 2015 report indicates only 73% of chief executives state they have the right board members to effectively govern their organizations. Nothing is more important to the health and well-being of your nonprofit than to have highly qualified board members. To recruit well, there needs to be a process for recruitment in place. You need to first envision your ideal board. You must establish a procedure for finding candidates and evaluating them. You must provide proper orientation for them to thrive. Understanding the skills needed by your board and attempting to secure board members with specific skill sets is necessary.

The nonprofit board member recruitment process, consists of identifying, approaching and selecting a new nonprofit board member. Sadly, there are nonprofit organizations that do not know where to begin the process of building and maintaining a nonprofit board. You need to determine what skills can enhance your board. A written job responsibility role is necessary. As you ascertain what attributes, reach out to potential qualified prospects. Create a process to interview prospects and make your final decision. Provide a formal orientation after induction. Make sure the new board members fully understand their expectations. You also need to know what they can potentially bring to the table.

With respect to the actual recruiting process, look for members that possess knowledge and are initiative-taking plus patient. Seek to evaluate best of class boards and learn how these nonprofits recruit such outstanding members. Aim for diversity and strive to have members with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Seek board members that are creative. Understand what your board needs and find people with the right tool set to fill them. Look for board members with passion, commitment and understanding of your nonprofit’s mission. Once you understand the proper board prototype, seek ways to find these gems.

Take the time to review a variety of nonprofit publications, read the local papers, talk to peers, review retired executive groups, research chamber of commerce opportunities, contact organizations that sponsor community executive training programs, meet with United Way representatives, meet with successful donors and volunteers, and talk to past board members for advice. Strive to make your board one that anyone would want to join.

Nonprofit Quarterly reminds nonprofits to seek to follow these simple rules to build impressive boards:

  1. Recruit good people who are willing and able to work.
  2. Be clear on expectations.
  3. Welcome and orient new board members.
  4. Help board members get to know each other.
  5. Make meetings fun.
  6. Provide board members with valuable information.
  7. Affirm their board roles.
  8. Share the excellent work the board does.
  9. Help non-performing members leave the board.
  10. Seek ways to engage your board members.
  11. Be thankful for constructive criticism.
  12. Turn challenges into opportunities.     

If you have worked in the profession for a time with boards, think about your board experiences. Who were the best board members that you loved? What made them special and stand out? I bet it was their skills, dedication, passion and willingness to go the extra mile for your organization. Now think about board members that made your life miserable. What attributes did they bring to the table? Learn from experience and recruit board members wisely. You will be glad you did!