Nonprofit organizations play a vital role in improving the quality of life for people living in communities. Nonprofits provide many of the social services that fill the gaps that governments can’t or won’t provide. In those and other ways, nonprofit organizations contribute to the economic health and stability of local communities.
Leaders of nonprofit organizations tend to be the voice of the people for those they serve. Nonprofit organizations well understand the needs of their communities and are often able to meet those needs by thinking strategically and acting creatively. The passion and commitment of nonprofit board members often transcend any challenges they face, which usually means being able to do more with less.
Tax-exempt status and the community’s reliance on the nonprofit’s services mean that the leadership of nonprofit organizations must be competent, ethical, trustworthy and compatible.
What Should Nonprofit Board Members Look Like?
It’s vital for new nonprofits to carefully choose and appoint quality founding board directors. Founding members should choose board directors who share a passion for the organization’s cause. Board directors serving for the first time should be aware that they are responsible for overseeing the organization as it progresses toward accomplishing its established goals. They should also be informed that they are continually accountable to their supporters and beneficiaries and that they are legally responsible for their actions.
Nonprofit organizations have strong ties to their communities and should reflect the people who live in their communities. Diversity matters! Board directors, staff and members should be a representation of the community’s age, gender, religion, occupations and backgrounds. Regardless of who they are or where they come from, nonprofit board members are known for their willingness to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Strong, capable boards ensure good governance and public credibility.
Beginning the Search for Quality Nonprofit Board Members
Boards may conduct their own search and recruitment efforts, or they may enlist the help of a search firm. Either way, before beginning the search to fill vacant board seats, nonprofit boards need to make some decisions about the types of people and the skills and abilities that the board needs to compose a quality, well-rounded board of directors.
Boards may find that the best approach is to assess the skills that the board already has and devise a list of skills and capabilities that they still need. It’s helpful for boards to have members around the board table who have expertise in various competencies, such as law, finance, governance, business or other important areas. Social and cultural competencies play a role as well.
Nonprofit boards that commit to conducting their own searches should form a nominating committee to search for appropriate board director candidates, interview and recruit them, and make appropriate recommendations to the board.
Members of nominating committees should be available for frequent meetings and should agree to actively participate in the search and interview processes.
Boards that opt to use search firms should perform due diligence in selecting them. They should look for search firms that have experience working with nonprofit organizations.
They should get to know the person who will be conducting the search and communicate regularly to make sure that the search professional stays on track with recruiting people who are a good fit. They should make sure that the search agent provides a brief orientation of the candidate’s expected duties and responsibilities, including the expectation that they make a personal financial contribution to the cause on a regular basis.
It’s wise to ask the search firm if they have any agreements with other companies that may limit the scope of their ability to find qualified individuals.
Selecting Board Members for a Start-up Nonprofit Organization
When starting up a new board of directors, it’s not necessary to select people who have board experience or prior experience as business leaders. Boards should look for people who share their mission and care deeply about making a difference related to the cause. Overall, boards should shoot for a balance of talent and abilities for a well-rounded board.
Quality candidates will be great strategic thinkers who have some level of business or organizational competency and who understand the principles of good business practices. They should be people who understand the differences between governance and management. Governance establishes the organization’s missions and programs; management operates and is accountable for programs.
New board members should be people with good character and a strong sense of integrity. They’ll need to express a willingness to give of their time and money to see the organization’s mission accomplished.
Selecting Board Members to Fill Current Vacancies
The process for nonprofit boards to fill vacancies on current boards is much like filling board seats for new boards of directors. As board terms end and new ones begin, the collective skillset of the board will change and the board dynamics will change along with it. As vacancies occur, it’s important to keep the principle of balance in mind.
Every board needs a balance of dreamers and doers. Too many dreamers around the board table will not likely get much accomplished. Having too many doers on the board will tilt the board too strongly toward volunteerism, and won’t leave enough room for creativity.
Bylaws are the internal rules of governance within which nonprofit organizations must operate. Boards would do well to consider a nominee’s willingness to comply with the bylaws explicitly. The bylaws spell out the rules for the board’s duties and responsibilities, including board terms and rules for adding and removing board members. Board members who aren’t committed to the integrity of following the bylaws may set themselves and the rest of the board up for legal challenges.
Every board also needs seasoned experts, although boards shouldn’t seek out lawyers and accountants solely because they have expertise in these matters. In fact, doing so could cause an undue conflict of interest. Nominating committees should look at the qualities and characteristics of nominees in comparison to what the board needs before considering whether their occupations will be an asset or a deficit.
Legal and professional help should customarily be independent of board service. Boards should enlist the help of an individual who understands state corporate law and IRS 501(c)(3) requirements, either as a board member or as an independent consultant.