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!