Choose wisely: 6 tips for finding the right nonprofit board members

Ever heard the saying, “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with?”

That age-old adage most certainly applies to your nonprofit’s board of directors. If your board is engaged, diverse, and well-connected, you’ll likely propel your organization to new heights. On the flip side, having a lackluster board could negatively impact your financial and community support.

According to a Stanford survey, a whopping 27% of all nonprofit executive directors believe their board members don’t have a solid understanding of their organization’s mission or strategy. Furthermore, 41% of nonprofits struggle with recruiting quality board members who are passionate about their cause.

These statistics highlight the importance of recruiting the right board members for your nonprofits. Board membership shouldn’t be about who has the deepest pockets; it should be about skills, knowledge, and shared values. 

Need help getting started? Here are six tips to help you identify your ideal board member. 

1. Evaluate your current board

Your board of directors should bring diverse skillsets, backgrounds, and lived experiences to the table. The more varied your board, the stronger the group will be overall. 

Start by exploring your current board of directors and mapping out their strengths. This skills map will help identify if you’re missing a particular skill like leadership, fundraising, or deep sector knowledge.

To narrow your search, review your nonprofit’s goals. Do you need a solid marketing strategy? Do you want a deeper connection with major donors? Do you need an overhaul of your operations? Once you know your current needs, you’ll better understand the skills, knowledge, and experiences you’re looking for. 

Pro Tip: If you need help figuring out where your organization wins and where you might be falling behind, it’s time to do a SWOT Analysis. Get the free template here

2. Figure out avenues for recruitment

As you open the doors for finding a new board member, you have two main paths: You can open the door for anyone to apply or hand-select specific individuals. While you’ll receive a more varied group of candidates if you open it up en mass, it will take longer for your current board to sift through applicants – many of who may not be a good fit. 

If you plan to cherry-pick candidates, just remember to acknowledge any biases in the decision-making process so you can actively seek to bring on more diverse candidates. If your board lacks diversity, now is your chance to acknowledge that problem and identify candidates from various backgrounds. 

Led by inclusive decision-making facilitator, Mer Joyce, this webinar offers a supportive place for organizations to learn how to co-design inclusive decisions and navigate their challenges. 

Organizations can add free Board of Director positions on CharityVillage’s Volunteer Board.

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3. Determine whether they’re a cultural fit

Historically, the most valuable contribution a board member could bring to the table was their networks and connections. However, we’ve shifted in mindset and now understand that the most important quality is their passion for your mission. If they’re dedicated to your cause, they’ll be more incentivized to make the necessary strategic decisions to see you succeed.

Once you’ve determined their skillset is viable, it’s time to see whether they’re culturally aligned. Consider asking candidates the following questions:

  • What are your core personal values? 
  • Why are you passionate about our cause?
  • Have you previously supported our cause as a volunteer or donor?
  • What is your preferred way of communicating? 

Take this free quiz to find out what your communication style is! This is the first step in building team alignment, reducing friction, and growing your nonprofit.

4. Consider conflicts of interest

It’s best practice to avoid recruiting your organization’s paid employees to join the board – even if they meet all of the qualifications you’re looking for. That’s because there’s more room for a conflict of interest serving in both roles. 

Whoever your candidates are, note whether they have pre-existing relationships with your organization or key stakeholders, how high the risk is, and whether it’s worth bringing them on regardless.

5. Look into existing commitments

Expressing interest in being a board member and genuinely being able to serve are two very different things. It’s a big commitment to dedicate yourself to a nonprofit board, and many candidates may underestimate the gravity of the situation. Safeguard your organization before you bring someone on by taking stock of everything you require from a board member-to-be. 

Then, during the vetting process, figure out what else the candidate has going on in their life. If they have many other commitments, they may be biting off more than they can chew. It’s your job to highlight what is required of them to ensure your board operates effectively.

6. Keep a list of qualified candidates

Recognize that board turnover is unavoidable. You don’t need to start from scratch every time you need to fill an open slot. Create a running list of potential board members that would be a good skill and culture fit. This will save you valuable time and resources later.

Following these six useful tips will empower you to find and recruit board members that will positively contribute to your mission. As challenging (and daunting) as finding the right board member is, you can streamline your recruitment process and increase your chances of success with just a little preparation. 

If you’re looking for other ways to engage your existing board, check out this on-demand webinar with fundraising master trainer Chad Barger, CFRE, focused on equipping and motivating your board members to be great fundraisers. You’ll learn how to help them overcome their fear of fundraising for your organization.

Start making your board work harder for your organization. 

Samantha Lego is a storyteller by nature and an organizer by inheritance, Sam enjoys crafting meaningful content equally as much as colour coding spreadsheets. As the Marketing Director at Keela, a Canadian Donor Management Software (CRM), she is always on the hunt for new and innovative ways to educate nonprofits and help them maximize their impact.