Here's a true confession, with my sincerest apologies to anyone at LinkedIn who might be reading this:
For years–years!–I have not fully understood the value of LinkedIn. I have been a member since I graduated from college. I have dutifully made connections with colleagues, classmates, and former students. I have been pretty good at remembering to update it with my latest and greatest professional details. But for me, LinkedIn has been something I participated in out of a bizarre sense of obligation.
No more! I have been converted. Did you know that LinkedIn is a treasure trove of board prospects? Allow me to explain...
LinkedIn users can indicate on their profiles if they have an interest in nonprofit board service. It's as though they are sending up a tiny beacon of light, beckoning Board Chairs and Nominating & Governance Committee members to invite them to learn more about their organizations.
How do you find these people? Login to your existing LinkedIn account and conduct an advanced search. Under 'Filter people by,' select 'Nonprofit interest' and then check the box next to 'Board service.' Voila! People in your first-, second-, and third-level network who could be your next awesome board member. You can filter the results even further by specifying a location.
Start with your immediate network. I know in an earlier post I urged those engaged in board member recruitment to dream big about whom they could invite to join their board. Still, it doesn't hurt to look at your own professional network, fresh with the knowledge that some of them are hoping to dive into board service. Speaking for my own efforts at board recruitment, I know I have unearthed professional connections where I immediately thought, "YES! This person would be SO GREAT on our board!"
Since you are already connected with such folks, send them a message like this:
Hello, John! As you know, I serve on the board of XYZ Organization. We are looking for new board members to join us. I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you have an interest in board service. Would you like to learn more about XYZ Organization? I think you could play a valuable role on our board! Could we meet for coffee to discuss?
Move to the second tier of your network. You can either toggle the search filters to show you only second degree connections (people who are connected to one or more of your contacts), or you can click/scroll to the end of your list of first degree connections.
When you find someone who has knowledge, skills, or experience that could be of benefit to your organization, reach out to them. Depending on their account settings, you may be able to send them a message. More than likely, you may only be able to contact them via InMail, which is a premium service. If that is the case, you can send them an invitation to connect and include a personalized message, up to 300 characters. Try something like this:
Hello, Jane! I serve on the board of XYZ. We get school supplies into the backpacks of children from low-income households so they can be successful in the classroom. We are looking for new board members. I noticed you have an interest in board service and have some experience that could be valuable for the work we do. Could I send you more information?
If you feel squeamish about contacting someone you don't know, then you could ask one of your mutual connections for an introduction. But keep in mind that folks would not publicly indicate an interest in board service if they did not want others to contact them about such opportunities. Moreover, they might even feel flattered that you value their expertise.
Request an introduction to the third level of your network. It can be less easy to persuade a third degree connection (a connection of a connection's connection) to learn more about your organization and consider board service with you. For this reason, you should certainly ask a mutual contact for an introduction to grease the skids. You might write to that mutual connection and say:
Hello, Andrew! As you know, I serve on the board of XYZ Organization. We are looking for new board members to join us. I am wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to one of your colleagues, Jane Smith. I noticed on her LinkedIn profile that she has an interest in board service, and I think she could play a valuable role with our organization.
One final note worth mentioning. If you start to conduct a lot of these searches, LinkedIn will warn you that you are "approaching the commercial use limit" and will ask you to upgrade to Premium to get unlimited people searching. That said, your limit resets at the beginning of each calendar month.
There you have it: how to identify and connect with board prospects on LinkedIn, along with some messaging templates to get you started. This can be an incredibly useful approach if you feel that your network is limited or tapped out. You will soon see that you are surrounded by a robust community of professionals who would be delighted to support and guide the work of your organization.
Have you used LinkedIn to identify and connect with board prospects? Let us know how it went in the comments below. As always, your questions are welcome, too!
I have lamented before that nonprofit organizations, especially small ones, sell themselves short when it comes to board recruitment.
You may believe that the best you can hope for in a new board member is someone who participates in meetings, volunteers to take on a few simple tasks, and gets along well with the Executive Director and the other board members.
And you may believe that it does not matter what knowledge, experience, background, skills, or attributes your board members might possess.
But what if I told you that you and your organization could dream big about whom you can recruit to join your board? In today's post, I am going to help you kick these limiting beliefs to the curb, and give you the tools to figure out whom you need on your board.
Where do these beliefs about board recruitment come from? In my conversations with nonprofit leaders, I have found that these beliefs are often rooted in a sense of humility. I have heard things like:
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Whether you are a staff leader or a board leader, then let me ask you:
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then I encourage you to think strategically about your board recruitment.
> > > Related: If you could still use a confidence-boost that you should dream big about whom you can recruit, then check out these reasons why you must set the bar high for board service.
How do you figure out whom you need to serve on your nonprofit organization's board?
I really wish there were a one-size fits all template for determining the ideal composition. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all say: I need a lawyer, a banker, a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. Check, check, and check!
Instead, you need to determine a composition that will best serve your organization’s unique vision, needs, and values.
Here are some things I would consider...
1. Who is on your board now?
Take inventory of your current leadership to learn more about the knowledge, experience, background, skills, and attributes your board members possess.
This can also serve as a great opportunity to get to know your board members a bit better. Invite them for coffee 1:1, or take time during a board meeting to go around the room and share. You will be delighted with what you learn.
2. Does your board reflect the community you serve?
There's an expression, "Nothing about us without us." This slogan has its origins in Central Europe, and has been widely used in a variety of social justice movements. No matter the mission of your organization, it is important that the voices and perspectives of those whom you serve are well represented and empowered on the board. For example, if your organization mentors homeless youth and provides them with a safe, warm place to stay, then several of your board members may have experienced homelessness as young people. If you find in the course of your inventory that the board does not reflect the community you serve, your recruitment process should rectify that as much as possible.
3. What do you need help with?
Start with any formal plans your organization might have. By this, I mean your strategic plan, fundraising plan, communications plan, etc. Are there any goals or strategies that you are unsure of how to achieve? That require special professional connections? That require significant funding?
Maybe you have formal plans. Maybe you don't. Whatever the case may be, here are some additional questions to ponder:
4. Putting It All Together
Take all of the information you have gathered back to your current board. In an ideal world, they have been engaged in the process alongside you. But no matter their level of participation, it is useful to review everything in the aggregate with them and to work together to put some stakes in the ground.
By the end of this process, you will have determined a board composition that is ideal for your organization. You will use it as a guide to help you find those in your community who will become your organization's best advisors, ambassadors, and advocates.
What am I missing? Share your best practices for determining your organization's ideal board composition in the comments below. Your questions are welcome, too!
Things have been going so well. You have had 100% attendance at board meetings for the past six months. Most of your board members have been actively engaged. They are asking great questions, offering their input, and connecting your Executive Director and staff with the resources they need to fulfill the organization's mission. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and just when you thought life could not get any better...
You realize that the terms of two your best board members are coming to an end in a matter of months. You whimper. You gnash your teeth. You briefly consider proposing a resolution to eliminate term limits. Ultimately, you pull up your big-kid britches, sit down with your contact list, and think, "Let's see...who do I know who has a pulse?"
May I stop you right there? It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way.
Perhaps I painted a very rosy picture at the beginning about the current status of your board. Maybe you have trouble getting some board members to attend meetings. Maybe you have some board members who remain silent. Maybe you have some board members dutifully clutching their rubber stamps. You might even have some board members who are outright hostile to each other.
How to address those types of situations is the subject for a future blog post, or two. But however functional (or dysfunctional) your board might be, you owe it to yourself, your organization, and the community you serve to recruit the best darn board members you can find. Time and time again, I see organizations sell themselves short at the outset of their recruitment process, and end up settling for board members who prove to be dispassionate, disengaged, or otherwise dissatisfying.
I don't want that for you. And I know you don't want that either. Instead, I invite you to dream big about whom you can recruit to join your board, no matter the size of your organization. And here's why...
Board members are your organization's ambassadors. They are sharing stories about the impact of the work that you do. They are leveraging their networks to help you find the time, talent, and treasure your organization needs. They are cultivating relationships with your best donors, volunteers, and community partners. If a board member is lukewarm about your mission, or is afraid to ask others to learn more and do more for your organization, then they will not effectively fulfill their role as ambassador.
Board members are your Executive Director's most trusted advisors. They bring their knowledge, experience, skills, background, and attributes to bear on the work of the organization. They can support your Executive Director in solving problems, overcoming challenges, and identifying opportunities. Your organization will best serve its community if its work is informed not only by the Executive Director, but by the diversity of perspectives represented on your board.
Board members play a role in staff retention. Your Executive Director sends an email to your board asking for their input or announcing a significant gift. Crickets. Your Development Director attends a board meeting and asks for volunteers to assist with lapsed donor re-engagement. No one raises a hand. A board member directly approaches the staff with a long list of tasks or requests. A board member provides destructive criticism of the Executive Director, to their face, in the presence of the rest of the board. If your staff members perceive that the board does not care about their work, micromanages their work, or does not respect their work, they will leave. And then you will be looking for much more than a few new board members.
Board members can help or hinder the future of your organization. They collaborate with your Executive Director and other staff members to set strategic directions, often in 3-5 year intervals. But is not uncommon for board members to get stuck in the weeds or to dwell in the past because there is great comfort in dealing with the known rather than the unknown. You need board members who don't mind this discomfort, and are adept at creative and strategic thinking.
See what I mean? Board members are so much more than warm bodies to achieve a quorum. They have a tremendous influence on the stability and impact of your organization. As you begin thinking about your upcoming board recruitment cycle, I hope you remember that your organization deserves board members who bring more than their pulse to the table. They must also bring their head and their heart.
What am I missing? Can you think of other reasons why organizations should "dream big" when it comes to board recruitment? Share in the comments below. Your questions are welcome, too!