When we consult with individuals who are considering creating a new nonprofit and get to the discussion about board members, we get one of the three responses below:
- “I’m going to have my wife/husband/sister/brother/mother/father/best friend (you get the picture) on the board.”
- “Why do I need to have a board?”
- “Where do I find board members?”
When an established nonprofit comes to the PCNRC we generally only hear the last question, along with “How do I get them to do anything?”
Let’s compare a nonprofit board with a buying a vehicle.
When you need transportation you have to consider:
- What do I need the vehicle to do? Do I need a car to get around or a truck to haul stuff?
- Do I want a status symbol (think Rolls Royce) or will an ordinary model do?
- Can it be easily maintained and repaired (without having to take a second mortgage on my house)?
- How long do I plan on keeping it (until it gets totaled or just can’t go anymore)?
When it’s new, it’s dependable, moving along without trouble (unless it’s a lemon, but that’s another post). It gets you where you want/need to go. It requires regular care and maintenance to stay in good shape, and as needed you’ll replace tires, brakes and change the fluids. As the vehicle ages though, parts may become difficult to get and repairs might become too costly so you’ll start looking for a replacement. It’ll be hard to let it go because it’s been so faithful and you’ll miss it but it’s got to be done.
A good board is very much the same. You’ll need to know what you want the board to do.
Start up organization? You need go-getters who like to be heavily involved, able to give lots of time and effort; are willing and able to raise the funds to get the organization going.
Adolescent organization? Now’s the time to have strategic thinkers; adaptive people with good networks; still somewhat hands-on but not micromanagers.
Mature organization? You’ll want policy makers and fresh thinkers to mix with the believers; go-getters of a different kind, the big-picture folks to push the organization to the next level; movers & shakers to build planned gifts or raise capital funds.
The point is to “know what it is you need the board to do” based on “what stage your organization is in at the time“.
The Board Building Cycle: Nine Steps to Finding, Recruiting, and Engaging Nonprofit Board Members
by Berit M. Lakey 658.422 L14B, 2007
Here are Nine Steps from BoardSource’s book on finding, recruiting and engaging nonprofit board members.
1. Identify: develop a board profile; expand diversity
Perspectives on Nonprofit Diversity – a free BoardSource PDF
2. Cultivate: develop a pool of potential board members; cultivate relationships
Get Connected is the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center’s Get on Board networking event
3. Recruit: explore interest & mutual fit; prepare for nominations & election
Specific tools: board matrix, profile, or chart. Here are samples (that you must change according to your needs) from:
- Georgia Center for Nonprofits: Recruit Attributes Chart Template; Strategic Needs Table Template ; and CurrentBoardInventoryTemplate
- Ditch Your Board Composition Matrix by Jan Masaoka for Blue Avocado
4. Orient: prepare new members for active participation; conduct an orientation
From BridgeStar’s Library: BoardSource’s Board Orientation
5. Involve: engage all members of the board; work towards becoming an inclusive team; clarify responsibilities
- Tell recruits how much time they will be expected to contribute, what committee opportunities are open.
- Share with recruits how the board spent the bulk of its time last year.
- Be specific with some absolute requirements, and encourage others with a “Board Engagement Plan Sample” from which board members choose specific tasks from key areas like leadership, governance, fundraising, recruitment, etc.
6. Educate: provide training in the 10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards; create regular opportunities for education
7. Evaluate: assess board members understanding of mission, finances and policies; engage an outside assessment or self- evaluate the board’s performance
8. Rotate: keep the board fresh; give tired board members time off the board
9. Celebrate: appreciate the work the board does; celebrate!