Finding qualified Board members is a challenge for all organizations. Nonprofits, specifically, struggle with this task since the vast majority of nonprofit Boards are volunteer. Adding to that, research has shown that nonprofit Boards are not advancing in terms of diversity, which is troublesome given the nature of the sector. The solution lies with building a pipeline of potential Board members before you need them. This article provides five tested and successful ways to find quality Board candidates.
Knowing What You Need
Before starting to build a Board Member pipeline, there is one critical step and that is defining the current and future leadership needs for your organization. Current gaps are pretty easy to define by gathering the capabilities of Board members and identifying any missing critical skills, such as finance, legal, operations, etc. To identify future gaps, review the strategic plan and consider new areas of focus and complicating factors, such as expansion into new regions, any merger activities or planned new services or technologies.
Be mindful of Board turnover and the fact that it takes time to find, qualify, engage and select new members. The pipeline should have folks at each stage that are aligned to the organization’s needs.
One Wrong Way
A mistake that organizations make, when trying to build their Board pipeline, is suggesting or instructing members to search for candidates similar to those already on the Board. The idea is that candidates with similar background and temperaments will be easier to approve and integrate. This may be a way to add members quickly, but it is a path fraught with longer term issues.
5 Great Places to Look for Board Members
- Thought Leaders
- Professional, Industry or Business Groups and Associations
- The Press
- Community Advocates
- Current Volunteers
One of the simplest ways to find candidates for your pipeline is to look online for people who are publishing thought leading topics in your nonprofit’s focus area. Well-established authors may be out of reach for small to mid-sized nonprofits, so look for new voices. Also, read the comments section of postings to see people engaged in the space that don’t yet have the readership or following of the well-known experts. Also, check out local or regional nonprofit conferences.
Professional, Industry or Business Groups
Reach out to groups that represent practitioners in areas you identified as gaps for your Board. Look at the volunteer leadership of those organizations and members recently recognized, such as “40 leaders under 40.” Also review folks that are noted for achievements at work or in their volunteer activities.
These organizations often have newsletters or online posting boards that may allow you to use to communicate that you are looking for candidates.
Also, engage with Chambers of Commerce in the communities you serve. You can alert these organizations of your need for Board member candidates and you can also find local sponsors or volunteer pools for other purposes, as well as, potential business partners.
Make sure you are reading business journals in the communities you serve and those in communities you have designs on expanding into. Business journals often highlight successful ventures and individuals and often provide biographical information including the types of organizations they support. Journals often list promotions which identify potential candidates who may value a Board opportunity to build their experience.
Boards and nonprofit leadership should be actively engaging people who are advocates in their service communities. This is a good practice for many reasons but can be another great source of potential Board candidates for your pipeline. Advocates are about as passionate as can be about the issues they support and bringing them onto the Board is an excellent way to ensure a strong link with the communities you serve.
Volunteers who actively participate in your programs may make excellent candidates for your Board member pipeline. Unfortunately, in many nonprofits, there are several layers between the Board and volunteers. Even more unfortunate, there are very few occasions when Board members interact with volunteers. Shame on us for that! Board members need to spend time with staff, volunteer and clients, that is just a fact.
At a very minimum, work with your organization’s volunteer coordinator to build a process that can identify candidates. The coordinator should have profiles on active volunteers including their general work history and other volunteer activities. Take the opportunity to see them in action, since natural leaders are easy to spot.
Nonprofits seem to struggle mightily with populating their Boards. However, with a bit of planning the organization can build a pipeline of candidates that will keep the Board sustainable over the long-term. Don’t have existing members find candidates that will fit neatly into the Board, shake things up. Task Board members to pursue the paths recommended here or come up with other ways to find candidates. Whatever you choose to do, don’t wait until you have a critical gap.
How does your nonprofit organization keep its Board member pipeline full? Please share your experiences in the comments section!
Interested in other nonprofit leadership topics? Check out the nonprofit leadership blog: Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers
If you have questions or would like a consultation on a nonprofit leadership issue, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more about the author, follow this link: Michael F. Cade, CPA, CGMA