6 Tips for Building the Board of Your Dreams

In response to a recent survey on nonprofit governance, chief executives and board chairs gave their boards of directors an average overall grade of B-. Average grades for certain functions, including community relations and fundraising, were even lower, according to consulting firm BoardSource's 2015 Nonprofit Governance Index. Clearly, nonprofit boards could be doing better.

But if you've ever tried to recruit board members, you know how difficult it is to find people who're qualified, passionate about your mission, and committed to good governance and transparency. Even when you've found what appears to be an excellent candidate, you may learn that the person can't put in the required hours or is otherwise unqualified. There's no magic bullet, but here are six suggestions for finding the best possible board members.

1.      Target your search. Don't just look for anyone to serve on your board; search for people with the specific talents or experience you need. For example, if your board already has plenty of financial and legal expertise but struggles when it comes to fundraising, you probably want to seek a candidate with an outgoing personality who has successfully raised money in the past and has plenty of community contacts.

2.      Find fresh referrals. If you usually recruit new members through current board members, consider trying a different approach. Advertise on social media sites, in your nonprofit's newsletter, in your local newspaper and in other publications whose target audience includes your ideal candidate. Also ask "people in the know," such as community leaders, politicians and business reporters, for suggestions.

3.      Don't overlook volunteers. Today's humble volunteer may be tomorrow's director. Volunteers are passionate about your cause and usually have a unique "ground level" perspective from working with staff and the public. Keep your eye on potential candidates and mentor the ones who show unusual promise.

4.      Treat the position like a "real" job. Even if your board seats are unpaid positions, they're important jobs. Ask applicants to provide a resume that highlights experience and skills relevant to your board and a possible committee assignment. Then request that applicants fill out an honest self-assessment that asks, for example, whether the candidate is able to commit 10 hours a month to your nonprofit. Your executive director, board chair and nominating or executive committee chair (if you have one) should interview the candidate one-on-one.

5.      Provide a proper orientation. New directors should receive an orientation that includes a tour of operations and introductions to key employees and fellow board members. Make sure the new board member completely understands your mission and programs, knows the rules of good governance — including financial oversight — and is up to date on current challenges and initiatives.

6.      Don't keep reinventing the wheel. If you're starting from scratch every time a board seat opens up, you're doing something wrong. Keep all applications and interview notes from previous searches on file, and be sure to record the names of individuals who have either formally or in passing indicated that they might be interested in a board position.

For additional information or to discuss this article further, please contact Thomas Dartnell, CPA and Not-for-Profit Partner on 973-328-1825 or tdartnell@nisivoccia.com