Many of the boards that we work with frequently ask for guidance for on how to recruit new board members. We strongly recommend that all nonprofit boards establish certain criteria that they use when recruiting.
9 Essential Criteria for Nonprofit Board Members
Here are 9 essential criteria you should consider to recruit effective board members.
1. Passion for the mission.
Nothing replaces a potential board member’s commitment to mission. What attracts the potential board member to the organization? Why do they care? Do they have a personal connection to the organization?
2. Expertise and ability.
What expertise does the board member bring to the organization?
A careful analysis of the future needs of the organization should be paired with the skills and abilities of incoming board members. Is the organization considering building a new headquarters? If so, the board might want to recruit a few people with real estate or construction backgrounds.
3. Philanthropic history.
As a general rule, you should consider past financial support of the organization as a requirement to be considered for future board membership. There are some exceptions to this, such as when a potential board member is new to the community.
However, during the recruiting process it is important for all candidates to be educated on the giving expectations the organization has for board members. We recommend that all potential board members are told that the organization expects the board member to make the organization “one of their top philanthropic priorities.”
The reason for this is simple: donors look to board members to set an example for them. If board members don’t give generously, neither will donors.
All potential board members should have a positive reputation in the community. Most importantly, they need to be seen as having integrity.
5. Willingness to advocate for the organization.
One of the key things that distinguishes a board member from a general supporter is a willingness to advocate on behalf of the organization. Board members should be very comfortable promoting the organization to family, friends and colleagues.
6. Ability to work in groups and to lead.
It is incredibly important for potential board members to have the ability to both work in a group and to lead. Throughout their term as a board member, most board members will be asked to take leading roles on projects, fundraisers, or as a committee chair; so their ability to lead is critical.
However, equally important is a board member’s understanding that as a member of a governing body there might be a time when they have submit to the will of the group. If a potential board member does not have the ability to “win some and lose some,” then we would recommend that you pass them over for another choice.
7. Connection to resources.
One of the primary functions of a board member is to get the organization in front of people who can help it. Potential board members should be asked about their connections to government, donors and foundations and vetted for their willingness to use those connections to benefit the organization.
The biggest mistake that nonprofits make when recruiting potential board members is to minimize the amount of time required to be effective board members.
Often, we see organizations that recruit board members by saying, “It will not take much of your time.” Then the organization wonders why it is having a difficult time getting strong participation at board meetings.
We recommend that you are very explicit about how much time board members are expected to give. The more you engage the board, the more effective the organization will be.
Most nonprofit boards are aware of the need to be diverse. A diverse board is more inclined to respond to community needs faster and more effectively.
Unfortunately, many boards only really consider gender and race when striving for diversity. We would encourage you to consider age, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, geography, political affiliation and country of origin, among others.
Clarify Your Expectations
Finally, we strongly recommend that you put your board member expectations into a board member job description that you use when recruiting new board members. The job description helps to ensure that your intentions are clear and that all board members receive the same information.
Following these guidelines should create the appropriate expectations for incoming board members and in doing so will help you build an intelligent and effective governing board.