Everyone wants a fantastic Board.
We want a supportive, enthusiastic Board that is passionate about the organization’s mission and is eager to help in any way they can.
We want people who are well-connected in the community and are willing to tap into those connections to bring new donors and supporters to us.
Sound like the Board of your dreams?
I believe that all Boards have great potential. And all Boards have problems.
If you really want to find the root of many problems on your Board, take a hard look at the way you recruit new members.
Recruiting new Board members is something that takes time and effort. You’ll get the best results when you use a system to identify and engage carefully-chosen prospects.
You don’t necessarily want “the usual suspects” that everyone else is trying to get. What you want on your Board depends on where your organization is right now and where you want to go.
After working with dozens of Boards, here are the top three mistakes I’ve seen in nonprofit Board recruitment.
Board recruitment mistake #1: Waiting until the last minute. Nothing great was ever accomplished by waiting until time is almost up. Too many nonprofit Boards start a recruitment conversation in May when they need new members in June. They get desperate and settle for “warm bodies” instead of going after people who can bring much-needed skills and talents to the Board.
Instead of being a “Last Minute Lucy,” start at least 6 months before you need new Board members in place. Create and work through a process of identifying the right people to add to your Board. When you have plenty of time, you can have meaningful conversations with prospects and give them adequate time to think over joining your Board. When you’re in a rush, people will tend to say “no.”
Board recruitment mistake #2: Not setting clear expectations. Here’s the old ‘bait and switch’ routine. When you’re desperate to get someone to say yes, you may minimize the seriousness of the job or downplay what is expected of your Board. You may say things like “you don’t have to do anything, just show up for a meeting every now and again.” Then later, you may get resentful because your Board doesn’t actually do anything. Hello! You set yourself up for failure when you don’t give people clear expectations!
Instead of trying to make it sound too easy to sit on your Board, put a Job Description together (in writing) and give the potential Board member a copy of it. That gives them an idea of what they’re saying “yes” to and they can make a better decision about joining your Board. In that Job Description, be sure to include what is expected of the Board member, and what the Board member can expect from the organization. Clear expectations pave the way for a good Board experience and prevent uncomfortable situations down the road.
Also be clear that you’ll expect the new Board member to make their own personal financial contribution AND that they’ll need to participate in fundraising. This alone will head off problems later.
Board recruitment mistake #3: Recruiting people just for their name. It’s tempting to go after people just to add their name to your Board list. Usually it’s the well-known Philanthropists in town that everyone wants. After all, they have the money, the influence, and the connections, right? The problem is that they’re probably on lots of other Boards and not deeply committed to many of them. How can you really be a leader (and that’s what a Board member is!) of lots of nonprofits at once?
Instead of recruiting “the usual suspects” talk to people who are passionate about your organization’s mission and really want to help. Look to your current donor base and your current volunteer pool for people who have the skills and talents you need, and are willing to bring those skills and talents to the table.
Take the time to do it right, and you’ll be very happy with the results when you’re recruiting new Board members for your nonprofit.