Every nonprofit organization needs a strong board. Why? One of the board’s main jobs is to act as governance, as well as the organization’s fiduciary, to ensure proper controls over finances. The board also approves important policy decisions and reviews the executive director’s performance annually.
Board members are also important for fundraising efforts. By donating their own funds and seeking donations from others, the board lightens the load for nonprofit staff and can introduce influential people to the organization.
Whether you’re a new nonprofit assembling your first board or an established nonprofit wanting to build a robust board pipeline, read on to learn strategies for identifying board candidates and how to reach out to potential board members.
Determining your board
One way to choose a well-balanced board is by following the “4W” model. This model was espoused by the late Robert Brooke Sharp, Ed.D, a respected fundraising consultant who worked with nonprofits in capital campaigns across the U.S.
Let’s take a look:
Nonprofits often operate on limited budgets, and most generate the majority of their revenue from donations, largely from individual donors. Nonprofits also rely on board members to give generously themselves and bring in additional funding by way of matching gifts and introducing the organization to their peers. This is why every board needs high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) on it. They (and their friends) will be key to fundraising success.
A well-functioning board needs people with specific expertise, be it financial, fundraising, legal, marketing, and other skills essential to your organization. These areas of expertise can be very useful, especially if the nonprofit is operating with a relatively inexperienced staff. Members with this type of wisdom can help steer organizational strategies and stay abreast of new regulations imposed by local, state, or the federal government.
A good board needs reliable people who will donate their time. For instance, a board member could help plan a special event, review legal documentation, or even volunteer beyond their board work. While not every nonprofit board member needs to be wealthy, a nonprofit benefits from people eager to work, helping augment the nonprofit’s workforce. This also ties back to why board members should have wisdom and experience in particular areas.
Finally, every board needs several well-connected individuals who are highly respected in the community. These connections can open doors, influence public policy, and raise your nonprofit’s reputation.
In addition to the 4Ws, potential board candidates should also have the following qualities:
- A genuine passion for the cause
- A “can do” attitude
- Willingness to attend as many board meetings as possible
- Able to work as part of a team
- Emotional intelligence
Identifying potential board members
1. Ask your board
If you’re recruiting new nonprofit board members, it’s more than fitting to ask your existing board members for recommendations. Part of a board member’s role is to be your nonprofit’s advocate, and, through their community connections, they can undoubtedly think of good candidates with an interest in your cause.
If they are connected to any of your major donors, that donor might become a good board candidate themselves, and a board connection can help broach the topic.
2. Conduct due diligence
Wealth screening can yield a bounty of publicly available information, including mentions in the media, along with stock holdings if your candidate is part of the C-Suite at a publicly traded company. It can also help red-flag a potential candidate with a potentially questionable occupation or interests
3. Recruit diverse candidates
Traditionally, boards of directors were composed of wealthy, older, white men. While boards are slowly becoming more diverse, the momentum still isn’t there. According to Board Source’s 2021 Leading With Intent DEI report, 66% of nonprofit CEOs are dissatisfied with their board’s diversity.
Today’s increased focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is beginning to correct that long-time wrong. Find people of color, emerging young leaders, women, and people with different lived experiences. Setting limits on terms for your existing board also help build diversity.
4. Refrain from family members of the executive director
Do not consider asking family members of the executive director, especially if the organization’s founder runs your nonprofit. This can be a serious mistake. It’s often too difficult for a family member to be an impartial, effective board member.
In addition, there’s an important tax and legal consideration: the IRS considers family members serving together on a board to be a conflict of interest.
Strategies for reaching out to candidates
1. Cultivate promising candidates
Just as major donors need to be cultivated, a prospective nonprofit board member also needs to be cultivated. Take them to coffee or lunch, give them a site tour of your facility, learn about them, and once you’re back in the office, enter what you’ve done and learned into your donor management system or your customer relationship management (CRM) software.
2. Determine who will make the ask
No, this isn’t an ask for money—this is an ask to see if the candidate is interested and willing to serve. So, if the person is someone known by an existing board member, that board member should make the ask or accompany the executive director to the first meeting.
3. Assign a board buddy once your candidate accepts
Every fledgling board member should have a board buddy in their early days of service. This provides context, builds relationships, and gives the new board member someone to go to for questions that arise.
4. Orient new board members
Every new board member needs (and deserves) a formal orientation. The National Council of Nonprofits offers a terrific guide to conducting an informative orientation for new board members. Parts of the orientation are led by existing board members, and it includes a board position description, a conflict of interest policy, and even an on-site tour of the nonprofit in action.
Prep for your new board with more nonprofit resources
By maintaining a viable board and a good board pipeline, your nonprofit will thrive. Remember to seek board candidates using the “4W” model, choose candidates who are diverse in age, gender, and race, and equip your newest board members for success.
We hope this guide to recruiting nonprofit board members has helped you to be more intentional in the recruitment process and recruit new, diverse, and energetic volunteers.
- Nonprofit Leadership is Out of Step with America’s Changing Demographics, Urban Institute
- Board Leadership Resource, BoardSource
- Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits, The National Council of Nonprofits
- Related Members on a Nonprofit Board of Directors, Foundation Group
- Board Orientation, The National Council of Nonprofits