The National Council of Nonprofits defines a board member’s role and responsibilities as:
“Board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.”
As someone who has been in the nonprofit sector for nearly 20 years, I have had the privilege of working with board members who genuinely and whole-heartedly fulfill that description. On the flip side, not everyone is ready or equipped to handle the responsibility of board membership.
When it comes time to find new board members for your organization, the following strategies can help ensure that you’re identifying board members that are the right fit for your organization.
- Create a formal “job description” detailing the role, responsibilities/expectations, and time commitment – when you are recruiting, potential members will want to know what the role entails – this document will ensure that it is spelled out, so expectations are clear upfront.
- Identify the profile of the type of person your organization could benefit from by using an assessment matrix (click here for a sample board matrix).
- Qualifications – What professional expertise do you need to execute your mission and ensure a healthy board (legal, HR, IT, marketing, etc.)?
- Networks – How are you making new connections to potential partners/donors? You will likely need people from different social and professional networks and industries.
- Demographics for Diversity – Age, race, and gender should be balanced and should reflect those you serve. Also, think about geography – where board members live and work should reflect the location of the organization’s services.
- Other – What else is essential for representation on your board as indicated by your mission? Maybe it’s active participation from a current or former client, patient, a junior (young adult) member, a parent, alumni, etc.
- Talk to existing board members.
- Once you’ve identified the profile of who you should recruit, ask your board for referrals – being very specific often helps them think more strategically about their networks.
- Provide them with the job description and some talking points to begin approaching those they have identified.
- Be sure you are tracking who they are approaching so that there is a coordinated approach, especially if more than one board member knows the contact.
- Consider your donors who fit the profile, especially those supporting the organization for several years or who are giving significant amounts. Their actions have shown that they are already committed to the mission and may be ready to step up their involvement.
- Try prospecting.
- Utilize LinkedIn - This video shows you how to use the advanced search function to identify those seeking a board position.
- Attend events that attract the profile of those you are looking for, and be prepared to talk about your organization.
- Connect with local universities or business schools that may have graduates or alumni looking to support the community.
- Scan business publication lists of top executives in your area. If you’re located in southeast Michigan, check out Crain’s Detroit and DBusiness. For a more expanded Michigan footprint, look into Corp!
- Consider getting assistance from a firm who will do the prospecting for you, like this one.
- Hold a recruitment event – This is a great way to connect potential new members with current board members and staff leadership and expose them to your mission/impact. It could follow the format of:
- Informal cocktail party – Invite those you’ve already vetted to stop in, learn more and connect with leadership.
- One-on-one meetings - Once people express that they are interested, share the job description and set up an appointment to review and discuss whether it’s a fit for your nonprofit and their interests.
Whatever route you choose, the task of finding new board members that are the right fit for your organization is an important part of driving your mission forward. Be sure to allow enough time to commit to the process fully.
Need help? Contact Detroit Philanthropy to discuss your board recruitment strategy!
About Rachel M. Decker
Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.