By Molly Hansen, Vice President, Alford Group Read Molly’s Bio
How to find great, or even good, nonprofit board members is an ongoing challenge. For many nonprofit organizations the board development issue feels especially urgent right now. The competition for good board members is increasing.
The philanthropic environment has nearly recovered from the Great Recession, but many philanthropists are still very cautious about where to invest their dollars, time and energy. Organizations who have been largely supported by government grants and contracts, their long-held intention to diversify their revenue through board members with financial capacity and connections, are now faced with the reality that it’s harder than they thought to find strong board members.
Regardless of the type of nonprofit you serve, its size, or the nature of your board and organizational funding, the following tips will help you get started on a productive path of board development.
One of the primary questions Alford Group hears from both CEOs and board members is:
“Where and how can we find the best board members? We keep asking our current board members to bring us names and either they say they don’t have connections to the ‘right people’ or they bring a list of names of the highest profile people in town that are on everyone’s list. Help!”
The first place to start is by asking yourself: What do we need from our board?
You may say, “We need people with money! We need corporate CEOs! We need connectors, people who have influence!”
Of course you do!
Let’s start with the characteristics that every nonprofit institution should have as their top priorities in seeking new board members. This strategic focus may lead you to those with affluence and influence.
5 key characteristics of excellent nonprofit board member candidates
Your top board candidates will have genuine passion for your organization and its purpose – or at least an affinity for what your organization does or the population you serve. In some cases, excellent board members started as individuals who may not yet have this passion, but have the desire to learn more about what the organization does and the willingness to become involved and ultimately develop passion.
#2 Time AND treasure
Both time and treasure to help your organization fulfill its mission is key to engagement. Excellent board candidates are interested in fully participating – attending meetings regularly, actively serving on committees, etc. They are supportive, yet ready to ask the tough questions. And they have the capacity and willingness to make a personal contribution and engage in fundraising activities.
#3 Nonprofit board experience
Top candidates will understand good business practices and ideally have nonprofit board experience. Without specific experience, candidates should be able to embrace that nonprofit boards are governance boards and not management boards.
#4 Strategic thinking capabilities
He/she should be a strategic thinker with the ability to internalize the long-term vision of your work and an interest in ongoing learning in the organization’s field of service.
You should look for integrity – plain and simple. In nonprofit board candidates, integrity means a personal and public commitment to transparency in the organization’s finances and business practices, as well as the capacity and ability to follow through on board responsibilities.
4 places to look for excellent board members
#1 Current volunteers and/or major donors
Stop looking for new faces – the best candidates may be right in front of you! Take a look at your organization’s current volunteers and/or major donors. These are the people who are already sold on who you are and are passionate about your mission and vision. Even if the key volunteers and donors you meet with are not interested in joining your board, ask them for ideas and connections. Find those that have two degrees of separation to key board prospects.
#2 Relationships with your board and staff
One important activity to conduct is relationship mapping with your board and staff. Set aside time to brainstorm connections that your board members and staff members may have through their professional associations, alumni group, faith community, personal “vendors”, friends and neighbors. In addition to looking for specific board prospects within those groups, look also for people who can connect to others that may fill board roles. Remember, you are looking for the two degrees of separation!
#3 LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch.org
LinkedIn is a great resource for finding excellent board members. You can search by skills or even post a board opportunity. Check out LinkedIn Board Connect. Another great online resource is Volunteer Match.
#4 In the news
As you read the news to stay updated on topics and changes in your sector, keep an eye out for who is quoted in the articles and who is involved in the projects. Up and comers are often highlighted in business journals and magazines. Read their bios and be sure to look for affinities and connections.
Excellent board members are out there! The most important step you can take in finding them for your organization is to commit to taking action. Create a basic plan, gather your most engaged board members and get going. Here are three specific action steps to take right away.
Three Action Steps:
1. Create a board matrix that indicates the demographics, professional skills and characteristics of your current board. Then identify where your gaps are that would be important to your organization.
2. Build your pipeline of board prospects based on the gaps you want to fill and the potential candidates that surfaced through your research.
3. Have a courtship before marriage. Recruiting board members needs to be a thoughtful and strategic vetting and cultivation practice.
One of the easiest steps to take is to check out Alford Group’s Board Member Toolkit.
The following are also a few excellent online sites that often provide free tools, webinars, and information.
National Council of Nonprofits
Good luck in recruiting your next excellent board member!