We’ve seen a lot of articles lately with tips on how to recruit new board members quickly and in mass quantities—and a lot of organizations are adopting this strategy: they create large boards thinking that more people means more effective governance, more networking and more donor support, but we question the value of adding more bodies just to fill your conference room. Is your organization better off with a handful of really dedicated and enthusiastic members, or a large group who shirks responsibilities thinking there are enough members to pick up the slack? What we would like to encourage organizations to do is recruit a board that is large enough to access a strong network of well-connected and generous individuals, while at the same time focusing on quality members who embrace the values, strategy and represent the community—and who enjoy and are actually good at the roles and responsibilities they have undertaken for your particular mission!
Here are five lessons for recruiting effective board members:
Lesson No. 1: Be clear on what you require in a board member. Move beyond the “marketing, finance, legal, human resources” conversation—there are plenty of people with those skills who are no good for your board. Think about the type of person who can move your mission forward. Are you seeking visionaries? Strategic thinkers? Analytical data-driven problem-solvers? Risk takers? What about community members who represent the constituents you serve? Are you building in enough diversity? What culture are you trying to foster?
Lesson No. 2: Utilize existing members to reach and tap new talent. Talk to your current board members to see if they have any friends or colleagues who may be interested in working with your mission. To keep them accountable, ask them to provide a couple of names. Stick to those prospects that are interested in your mission or area of work; it can be a waste of time for your organization to target individuals whose interests lie in arts and culture if your mission is focused on environmental policy.
Lesson No. 3: Use the resources in your community. It’s a good idea to diversify your board beyond the friends and family of current members. Recruiting community members to sit on your board can help shift the conversation towards programmatic relevancy and impact. Chambers, leadership programs, local or regional associations and networking groups are great areas to seek members. The Board Match is a fabulous yearly event produced by the Volunteer Center that matches interested individuals with nonprofit boards. Based on my own experience on the board of the YMCA Richmond District, we found multiple board members at The Board Match, one of which has made a significant impact helping the organization track and assess its finances. Another resource is the Board Fellows program of the nationally recognized nonprofit Net Impact. Board Fellows recruits MBA students onto nonprofit boards to complete discrete projects that the organization wouldn’t otherwise have capacity to do. Not only will you find that a lot of work gets done, but you “get ’em while they’re young!”
Lesson No. 4: Develop good governance. Develop internal guidelines and processes for finding, assessing, and onboarding prospective board members. What questions do you want to ask a potential board member before he or she joins? What are the financial and time commitments that you expect? What other commitments does the prospect have that may detract attention from your organization? Finally, how will the prospective board member be trained? Do you have an orientation packet, or training opportunities, to bring new members up to speed? Setting the right tone from the very beginning is essential to making a good first impression on prospective members as well as conducting an appropriate vetting and onboarding process.
Lesson No. 5: Don’t settle! We have seen too many clients accept “adequate” board members in pursuit of numbers. Are you seeking to build an “adequate” organization whose mission impact is “adequate?” Set your sights high and stick to your standards.
Remember, think quality first and size second—no matter what you may hear on the streets, bigger is not always better!