Effectively Recruit New Board Members

Begging a board imageLet’s imagine that you are planning on increasing your board size. You know someone who has attended a few of your organization’s events and donated on a regular basis. How do you know if she will be a good board member? Will the chemistry be right—will this new person be a good fit? Will he be willing to help with time as well as money? Can you count on her to recruit friends to events? Will he solicit their financial support? Will they serve as a strong advocate for the organization? Do you know how to effectively recruit new board members?

Congratulations. You are on the right track by asking these questions, and those like them, before you offer anyone a position on your board.

All too often, organizations are disappointed with a new board member’s involvement and for good reason – they asked the person to join before determining the organization’s needs, the prospective board member’s strengths, and/or before creating roles and responsibilities to guide everyone through the process.

Where should you start when you want to effectively recruit new board members? You may already have a nominating committee or a committee of trustees. But if you are like most organizations, that committee comes into being in an ad hoc way about eight weeks before the annual meeting, tries to fill a slate of officers and board members and then goes out of existence once it has rendered its report. But, best practices are that a nominating committee should be a standing committee of the board and function year-round.

The first task for this newly organized committee would be to develop a position description for every officer and one for a board member. Then, create an agreement, in contract form, between the individual and the organization that outlines mutual expectations.

A reasonable set of responsibilities for individual board members—indeed, for the board as a whole, might be:

  • determining mission and strategic direction
  • overseeing organizational resources
  • evaluating the performance of the executive director
  • being accountable to the community constituents—members and funders
  • building relationships on behalf of the nonprofit to promote its mission
  • fundraising
  • donating to the organization
  • advocacy

In other words, the Board is responsible to look out, watch over, reach out, and engage.

Inventory of Current Board Profiles
Now it is time to evaluate who you currently have in the room and who you need. An essential step to effectively recruit new board members. The easiest way to do this is to use a Board Profile Worksheet (Mersky, Jaffe & Associates has one that can be provided to clients and friends upon request). With such a form, you can examine your current and prospective board’s demographics, expertise and skills. Once you have completed this form, you will be clear as to what you need in terms of skills and experience–whether simply financial supporters or hands-on volunteers, advocates or fundraising solicitors.

And, while we all search for those ideal candidates who can supply time, money, connections, creativity and business sensibility, remember that they are few and far between. Appreciate those who offer their willingness to give—whether it is time around the office or warm leads on contacts for you to follow up.

Roles and Responsibilities
Plan to play up individual strengths. Classify the Adamant Advocator, the Central Nonprofit Liaison, or Master Steward of Donors as what they are. Ask them to join committees that could benefit from their expertise without over-taxing their precious time.

Follow progress carefully – with your future needs in mind as well. Before long you will be looking for a new head for the development or finance committee and it will be nice to know who is prepared to take over.

The Ask
You have this fabulous person that has been involved in your organization and you have done your research well enough to know they will be a good fit. Now it’s time to ask. Pick up the phone and make an appointment to see the person. Seriously, stop reading and make the call. Your procrastination may allow this person to fill up their schedule with other commitments or feel under-appreciated. And on that note, we have a few calls to make of our own to effectively recruit new board members, so until next time…

Originally published in February 2005.