Putting the right people in the right jobs has long been essential to business success. You’d never hire an administrative assistant unable to multitask, nor would you recruit a salesperson unable to sell or strategically prospect, actively listen, build rapport — you get where I’m going. With talent, it’s all about positioning to create the highest value add.
Choosing a board of directors for your nonprofit is no different. You need to find and enlist the right members with the right skills, the right resources, the right influence, and all the right contacts to position an organization for success. Think of this like a football coach getting to know a team’s players: The best coaches don’t put a talented quarterback on the offensive line, right? They allocate team members to the right positions based on their individual skills and talents — and this gives the entire team the best shot at success.
Get this formula wrong, and it’ll lead to many headaches down the line: In fact, 27% of nonprofit directors question whether board members truly grasp their organization’s mission and strategy. Everyone has unique skill sets, and those need to be identified and used. You’ll need a mix and match of skills and personalities to build a strong, capable, and active board — one that opens doors, advocates, and advances your mission to help your organization grow and prosper.
The Best Criteria for Selecting Nonprofit Board Members
Of course, the criteria for selecting nonprofit board members almost always starts with heart. It’s important to find people who really believe in what you’re trying to accomplish. Without that passion, they aren’t likely to work as hard to drive the mission forward. An honest interest in your cause should be the foundation when you’re recruiting nonprofit board members.
But heart will only get you so far. You also need nonprofit board members with foresight and understanding of how to run a business. A nonprofit is still a business; it just happens to be a cause-driven one first and foremost.
That’s why the criteria for selecting nonprofit board members should also include:
1. Communication savviness: Members of your nonprofit board will be going into the community and talking about your organization with potential donors. They’ll be making speeches, giving media statements, and engaging in lengthy discussions about your organization’s cause. That means communication skills are a must. It’s also helpful to remember that philanthropy comes in many forms: Sometimes, someone with strong relationships (and relationship-building skills) can be more useful to a nonprofit than personal assets.
2. Diversity: Many nonprofit boards end up stacked with members who all look alike. They have similar lifestyles, interests, and even backgrounds. This can be problematic — especially if the ethnic makeup of your board is drastically different than the community you serve. When recruiting board members, then, it makes sense to strive for diversity and inclusivity. This, too, can bring much-needed perspective to board meetings.
3. Fundraising abilities: Every board member has a responsibility to raise funds for your nonprofit. Most start their roles as board members knowing prospective donors and are willing to use their network to secure financial commitments from a variety of community leaders. Note that you don’t necessarily need career fundraisers on the board — just people who are able to bring in support.
4. Volunteer experience: It can be beneficial to have board members who’ve volunteered for your organization in the past. This hands-on experience can bring a new perspective to board meetings, providing insights into how things actually work and whether potential initiatives are fitting for your nonprofit.
5. Financial know-how: Because a nonprofit’s board members will be responsible for deciding whether any initiative is viable or can provide the necessary returns, candidates should have some experience managing or overseeing an organization’s finances. With that in mind, business leaders are often a good place to start for your recruitment efforts.
Board development is an ongoing process. As one person’s term is about to end, you need his or her successor waiting in the wings — and those terms can go by in a blink of an eye. Trust me. Long-term planning is an essential component of nonprofit organizations’ recruitment strategies. You always need to be on the lookout for new board members who have a passion for your cause and the combination of skills that can make your organization a success.
I’m deeply involved in the nonprofit community here in Columbia, Missouri, so I’m always willing to meet others within the space. If you’re looking to learn more about recruiting for your own nonprofit’s board, I’d love to chat — let’s connect on LinkedIn or via my homepage.