By Jennifer Hansen
Anyone who has served on or worked with a nonprofit board knows that one of the most difficult tasks a board faces is finding new board members. The attempt to achieve success as a board lies in who serve on the board; who serves on the board is a result of recruitment.
So how can we strategically recruit those who would benefit our organization the most effectively, and what challenges will we face along the way? Below are some of my thoughts on recruitment, with help from some of my favorite articles.
Depending on the organization, there can be hundreds of different challenges in recruiting new board members, let's focus on the basics, the ones that everyone encounters.
- Time - Most sources you find will tell you that this is the biggest issue. Read more about lack of time here in an article from BoardSource. In addition to this, many board responsibilities require attendance to more events that just meetings. It can be hard to recruit while holding a list of responsibilities they must serve.
- The Full Package - The search for members who possess the proper skill set needed of board members, connections, time, commitment to mission, as well as the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. Finding potential members of these qualities is as hard as it sounds...often, the good ones are taken.
- Over-Commitment - So often, we in the nonprofit community are so passionate about what we do, it is hard to give up on something. You've been there: not enough volunteers, something needs done, and no on has time. So we (you) step up because we hate to see our organization go without and as a result, if you serve as a board member, you often serve on more than one board.
See the results of an excellent survey from execs and board members here that discusses more challenges. This is a better layout of the survey after the BoardSource article above.
Six Roadblocks... is a great resource in terms of challenges local nonprofits face. I found it very useful when trying to recruit members myself.
Another great article by Jan Masaoka discusses mistakes made by boards here. All the mistakes aren't about recruitment, but you can relate many to your board's approach to recruitment.
Now that you know what you're up against, let's talk about some basic strategies to help you overcome and recruit some great board members!
Broad board basics
Why is it important to have an effective recruitment strategy? Making a major investment in recruitment can have long term positive effects. Without investing some time into who will serve on your board, you may encounter a lot of problems.
- Better Board, Bigger Impact is a short article discussing some basics to review before tackling recruitment strategies.
- Terrie Temkin provides a list of basics here that you may want to consider before creating a strategy. Skim the list and find things that you'd like, eliminate what you don't. Everything doesn't work for everyone.
- Debra Beck gives us a short explanation of why and how to recruit here. This article would be a great way to begin a recruitment discussion during a board meeting.
Here are some of the ways organizations organize the recruitment of new members:
- Committees - This can be used many ways. Create a committee of board members (maybe include a volunteer and staffer) to come up with strategies to recruit. They could also pool a group of people they think would be effective to the organization and create a matrix to weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. A great presentation and example can be found here.
- Elections - This is how I came to serve on a board, I was elected by those I was going to represent. If there are several candidates willing (you're awfully lucky), holding an election can be a fair way to determine who fills the position. However, in this case (and every case for that matter) make sure each candidate has a clear understanding of all roles and responsibilities they will be held accountable for.
- Invitations - A great way to obtain new board members is to ask volunteers, donors, ex-staffers. Narrow down options using a matrix-like strategy like the one suggested above. Once you have a candidate(s) in mind, invite them to be a part of your board. Better yet, invite several, hold a forum to ask/answer questions of each other and see what happens.
Recruitment is difficult, there is no doubt about it. But don't settle, stay true to the mission of your organization. There are ways to find people willing to serve on the board of your organization that will have the interests of your program at heart. Start organizing a strategy as soon as possible to find them!