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!