Do’s and Don’ts for Recruiting Board Members

by | Mar 17, 2022 | Board

Boards are crucial for every nonprofit organization. We need good boards to help provide leadership, strategy, and vision for our nonprofits. As a board member, you like to feel that your time and talents are being used to promote a meaningful cause.

Some of the boards I’ve served on function well. Others, not so much. Great boards don’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of work and excellent leadership from the board chair.

For one of the boards I joined recently, I watched their recruitment and onboarding process to see how well it functioned. I was impressed. Other boards seemed desperate to have me and provided no orientation or training about the organization. One board never thanked their board members for their service as they rotated off.

Here are some do’s and don’ts when recruiting potential board members:

  • Don’t ask them to join the board without knowing them well. You aren’t just looking for a warm body to fill that seat. Take the time to know them.
  • Do ask them about their story. What connects them to your organization? How did they first become involved? What part of your mission & programs are they enthusiastic about? Why do you want them to join?
  • Don’t try to fill a board vacancy by filling a quota or discriminating against potential board candidates. The optimal candidates for the board reflect the behaviors your organization expects, bring a particular skill into the board room that assists with governance, and reflect the diversity and networks that are important to your organization. 
  • Do be intentional about the skills, talents, and behaviors you are seeking in board members. For more on this topic, read the incomparable Simone Joyaux.
  • Don’t be mysterious about your expectations. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you’d really like them to do because you fear that if you do, they might not want to join the board. 
  • Do be honest from the beginning. If you expect them to make a financial gift each year, tell them up front. Not only is it vital to act with integrity, but you don’t want them to feel like you’ve pulled a bait and switch two months into their board service when you describe what you really expect them to do.
  • Don’t immediately ask them to chair a committee before they’ve even joined the board. 
  • Do give them time to learn about your board, how it functions, what your goals and challenges are, and where they see themselves contributing time and talent before asking them to make that kind of commitment.
  • Don’t assume they’ll lead the fundraising effort as development chair and write all your grants if they’re a fundraiser. It’s common to want a fundraiser board member in a fundraising role for your organization, but there may be conflicts of interest if they actively raise money professionally for another nonprofit.
  • Do ask them how they want to serve. A background role might be the best use of their time and talent, so they can teach and guide other board members about development and fundraising. 
  • Don’t tell them they won’t have to help with fundraising. 
  • Do be truthful with your potential board member about what you will ask them to do to support the fundraising function. The board is responsible for ensuring that the organization has the resources to achieve its mission. The board is legally, morally, and ethically accountable for ensuring that the money is raised. The board cannot delegate that accountability to any other entity or person, including the CEO.
  • Don’t tell them it’s a small commitment of time, no more than one hour a month. If only I had the proverbial dollar for every time I’ve heard this. 
  • Do be upfront about the amount of time required. If you are honest, you may really want each board member to serve on at least one board committee, plus sell tickets to your annual dinner event AND show up at other events like city council meetings, major donor meetings, or donor appreciation events to demonstrate their support of your organization. That takes more than one hour a month. 
  • Don’t think your job is done once they agree to serve. 
  • Do help them learn more about you by providing an orientation and perhaps a mentor board member who has served for a year or two. Share information about your programs, not just the date and location, but how that program allows you to meet your mission. A tour of your facility or a discussion over coffee go a long way in helping a potential board member feel connected and committed to your cause. Provide mission moments and relevant stories at each board meeting.
  • Do commit yourself to providing the support the board needs to do their job. You have a big role to play in their success. Simone Joyaux’s website has great resources for board development and for fund development including much more about serving as an enabler for the board.

Let’s Talk About Your Board Recruitment Challenges

If you have questions or challenges about board recruitment and involving board members in fund development, reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you!