Recruiting Nonprofit Board Members: Do’s and Don’ts
It’s quite an honor to be asked to serve on a nonprofit board of directors. It’s also quite rewarding to give your time to a cause that you care deeply about. Before a nominating committee makes a request for a candidate to join a board, nonprofit boards will want to be sure that the candidate is a good fit for the position.
When considering someone for a spot on a nonprofit board, it’s important to learn what the candidate has to offer your board. Also, assess whether the individual will improve the dynamics of the current board rather than negatively impact the board’s collaboration process. Each board director should have a particular area of expertise to contribute to the board. To make the process of recruiting board members better, nominating committees need to have a process for identifying board member candidates, vetting them, and cultivating them for possible board service.
Do’s for Recruiting Nonprofit Board Members
Before you gear up your nominating team to start recruiting, be sure to take stock of all the great things that you can do to work towards a qualified, collaborative, dynamic nonprofit board of directors.
Familiarize your nominating committee with best practices for creating a strong board composition. You’re sure to revisit a lot of things you already know, but a refresher never hurt anyone. Pull out your most recent board assessment to evaluate the current board’s skills and abilities. Set up a skills matrix so that you can seek candidates that will fill the gaps in the skills that you need and look for people that have those qualities.
An idea that many nonprofits often overlook is to network with other nonprofits that have similar values and share referrals.
In addition to looking at a candidate’s skills and abilities, consider the board’s needs for diversity as it relates to gender, age, and ethnicities.
You’ll get to know people best by working with them. Ask your potential board candidates if they’d consider serving as a volunteer or serving on a committee before asking them to accept a formal board position. That will give you a chance to see how they serve others and act in person which will help you to decide if they have the right dynamic to serve with the rest of the board members. In spending some time volunteering together, it will give them time to acclimate better to the organization and give then a bit of formal experience with the nonprofit before you ask them to serve in a leadership position. Getting people involved early on in the board recruitment process should motivate and inspire them to get involved and make a difference.
Serving on a nonprofit board of directors takes more time than a lot of people think. When having preliminary discussions with board member recruits be sure that they have the time to commit and that they’re aware of the expected time commitment upfront.
Most likely, your executive director will have some good ideas about people within his or her network that would be good candidates to recruit. Take advantage of any opportunities to gain an introduction.
Social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are good places to be on the lookout for people that have a natural interest in your cause.
Take the time to prepare a preliminary application so that you can get some initial information about candidates beyond their resumes. The application will help the committee get to know more about the candidate and why they’re interested in your cause.
Members of the nominating committee should be familiar with the state laws that govern their nonprofit. There may be legal mandates for the required minimum or maximum number of board directors, as well as any minimum age requirements.
Don’ts for Recruiting Nonprofit Board Members
When recruiting for your board, be on the lookout for any personal or professional issues that could negatively reflect on the organization. Your organization’s reputation is very important, and you won’t want a newcomer to tarnish your nonprofit’s good reputation.
Work on your recruitment process continually. Most nonprofit organizations have staggered board terms. That means that one or more people will be coming off your board every year. Don’t wait until the last minute to try and fill a board vacancy. Be sure to give the process of recruiting and interviewing the time that it needs for your nominating committee to do a thorough job. Anticipate vacancies and start the recruitment process early.
Don’t grab just any willing body. Assess whether each candidate has the skills the board needs. Be forward-thinking. Evaluate the skills that your board will need now in the next 3-5 years. Nonprofit board candidates should not only be people who believe in your cause, but who are willing to help advocate for your nonprofit and champion the cause.
Don’t pass over people with no board experience. Everyone has to start somewhere. If they have the time and the talent, they could still be a good addition to the board. Set them up with some board development training or a mentor to help bring them along.
Ask probing questions to see if candidates are likely to have any conflicts of interest. If so, they’ll have to abstain from voting on issues where they have a conflict and that could impact important board decisions.
Don’t offer up a slate of candidates that is too large or too small. Nominating committees should start with a long list, then narrow it down after carefully considering each biography. Pick a small group of potential candidates to interview, then narrow the list down to 2-3 candidates for the full board to consider and vet further.
Allow all board members to be on the lookout for new board member candidates, but only nominating committee members or other designated people should be allowed to make the ask.
Younger people can sometimes be an asset to a nonprofit board, but Don’t allow people under the age of 18, or whatever the majority age is, to be appointed to the board unless state laws indicate otherwise.
DO ensure that your nominating committee collaborations take place within the security of your BoardEffect board portal system—it’s the modern governance approach to nonprofit board recruitment.