By Craig Klose
How does an organization build and maintain a great nonprofit board of directors? Let’s begin with board recruitment.
The individuals you choose — hopefully for their professional expertise, honesty, integrity and leadership — must influence the direction of your organization. A strong board member governs with care and wisdom.
You may be looking to build a board of directors from scratch to launch a new nonprofit organization. You may need to replace one or more members whose terms have expired. Regardless if your governing body is brand new or decades old, you should always aim toward board development to improve working relationships as well as individual and collective skills.
Board Recruitment Tips for Your Nonprofit
What are your organizational needs? What size board is right for you? What active, community-minded people do you already know who should be considered for board membership?
First things first:
1. How Many Members Do You Need?
Determine what size board is right for your organization in its current stage. There is no right size for a nonprofit board. But the IRS typically mandates at least three board members for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Boards that small may get the job done for a modest nonprofit, but you may decide that five or eight is a better number to suit your organization’s needs and individual roles of governance. Your bylaws should establish a range for board size to allow for flexibility — for example, between six and 10 members.
2. How Long Should Members Serve?
Establish policies for term lengths and limits, conflicts of interest, and adding and removing members when necessary. Develop a board member job description and a new board member letter of agreement. You want prospective board members to know exactly what to expect in terms of time, responsibilities and financial commitments.
3. Who is Your Ideal Board Member?
As you scan your community for board members, identify which skill sets, institutional connections, and educational and experiential backgrounds will be most useful for your board. A strong nonprofit board member should have particular skills that serve the organization well.
Executive skills ease the decision-making process. Financial skills help to develop staff pay scales and strategize fundraising initiatives in keeping with the bottom line, while also meeting tax obligations. Human-resources (HR) skills help to develop effective job descriptions and employment policies. Experienced grant writers help to oversee grant strategies, establish connections and build relationships with potential funders, and even with the grant-writing process itself. Community outreach and marketing professionals help to build the organization’s brand, promote initiatives and prepare for public-relations (PR) crises.
Some other specialized skill sets include legal experts, community advocates/activists, law enforcement officials, educators and health care professionals. (If your nonprofit, for instance, is an Italian cultural promoter you’ll benefit from having at least one Italian speaker and/or heritage expert on your board.)
Some useful tips:
- DO use your own connections to reach into the community for board members that are right for you.
- DON’T go for big names or big shots just for the sake of having them on the board.
- DO consider board members who will be willing and able to make meetings.
Having someone with the perfect skill set on your board won’t make a bit of difference if they are too busy to attend meetings and contribute.
4. Who Should Lead Recruiting?
Both the board and the executive director (or whatever chief executive) can play important roles in recruitment. If you have a governance committee, that is the natural choice to oversee board recruitment. Your executive director should continually be on the lookout for community members who have the experience, connections and enthusiasm to add value to your board.
But the executive director should not be hand-picking candidates. It is a clear conflict of interest for your chief executive to stack the board with members who will ultimately have oversight over them (and their compensation).
Board Recruitment is an Ongoing Process
It is not a one-time or isolated event. Organization leadership must continually assess the size and effectiveness of your board, facilitate open dialog and contributions, hold members accountable, and vet community members who could add value in the future.
Remember: every organization’s governing board will only be as effective as its individual members. Human capital is always your organization’s most important asset. If you need help, hire a consultant who understands and respects your strategic plan.