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Building A Nonprofit Board: A Beginners Guide On Who To Look For, How To Find Them, And How To Ensure Success

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A good nonprofit board is priceless and can serve many purposes. Board members can be the community “face” of an organization, provide quality connections, help steer strategy and planning, and offer invaluable support and insight. Building a nonprofit board should not be overlooked, but who should you be looking for and how do you find them?

First, consider what kind of support is needed to run an organization. Don’t just seek out deep pocket donors when building a nonprofit board. It is important to have a mix of practical, creative, and social members on a team. Having people with professional backgrounds in finance, law, business and will help with the strategic structure of the organization. Individuals with marketing and communications will help with advocacy and messaging. Board members who run in big social circles and may have a pulse on the local community are also very helpful for connections, partnerships, and advancement.  

It is important to assemble a group of people who can collectively work well together and with the paid management of the organization. It is also incredibly important to remember to honor diversity as you are building a nonprofit board. Consider different ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds when comprising your group. 

So, how do you find this variety of people? There are several straight forward strategies to board recruitment. While they are not “hired” positions, consider approaching the board recruitment, interviewing, and onboarding process in a similar fashion. 

Recruitment: Where Do You Find Quality Members when Building a Nonprofit Board?

This is not always an easy answer but there are several sources of inspiration to use as a guide! Sometimes it depends on how strong your community presence it already, how many constituents you have in your communications efforts, or how established your board of directors already is.

1. Direct and Personal Community Connections

We all know as nonprofit professionals it is important to be out in the community to raise awareness for your mission, which subsequently raises funds. However, community involvement is also a great opportunity to connect with potential board members. What large local networking groups can you join where you could brush elbows with wide variety of professionals and individuals who may want to serve as a board member?

2. Post Board Role Availability

Seek out websites that have forums where you could post volunteer or board member opportunities. You could also send out an email to your current constituents or post on social media that you are actively seeking new board members. You never know who may volunteer! 

3. Source Your Organization

Who is already familiar with and involved with your organization? Who attends your events on a regular basis? Who volunteers frequently? Who constantly contributes in-kind items or donates to every campaign? Sometimes good board members are already right under your nose waiting to be asked to serve in a different capacity.

4. Referrals

If you already have a good group of board members, think about asking them each for a contact that they believe could make a good addition to the team. As some board members term off, it is good to have an ongoing list of people in advance that you could ask to help take their place. 

Interviewing: Make Sure It’s A Fit

Once you have asked someone if they would be interested in joining your board or once someone has expressed interest, it is time to have a formal discussion. This is the part where you will communicate all time and financial expectations up front. Being on a board is an honor, but also a big commitment. Think of it as a job “interview.” Educate your prospects further on your mission and ask them why they want to serve your organization. Learn their experiences and get to know them. Members may have skills, abilities or interests you didn’t realize they had. This meeting will help determine if someone is a good fit for your organization and if your organization is a good fit for them!

Onboarding: Orientating and Assigning 

Once you have selected the individuals you want on your board, consider what you want them to do. Also, equally important, ask them what they want to do! Properly placing members on the board in the right roles is as important as the people you accumulate. Matching the right person with the right task or leadership role can help you get the maximum impact from each member and help them feel like they are really using their time and talents to make a difference.

Consider what positions will need to be filled. A standard nonprofit board has several roles on the governance team:

President/Chair: This person should have strong management and leadership skills. They should also have extensive knowledge on the organization and mission. 

Vice-President/Chair: This person will step in if the President/Chair cannot serve. Their skillset should be similar. 

Secretary: This person is responsible for minutes and documentation. This is a very important task and should not be neglected for auditing and accountability purposes. 

Treasurer: This person should be familiar with nonprofit accounting and tax filing requirements. Tracking and managing the finances is a crucial role to the organization.

Aside from these standard roles, think about what else is needed from your board of directors? What communications roles need filling? What events do you host and who on the team could help improve them? What advice do you need on legal issues or business strategy? 

At the end of the day, once you have chosen and orientated your board members, engaging them on a deep level with effective communication and real responsibilities will not only serve your organization better, but will help ensure your members feel that they are valued and making a real difference. It’s a win-win!

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