It feels like the 7th grade social all over again. You get all dressed up, they bring in special snacks to the gym….er…Board Room. And, despite a beautifully written letter and a well-placed call to his cousin’s hairstylist, Justin Timberlake didn’t show up to your dance OR the Board meeting. In fact, no one new is at your Board meeting.
But it shouldn’t be a total surprise, in fact, you haven’t had any new, or even potential Board members show up at your last six meetings. But you aren’t alone. 70 percent of nonprofits say it is difficult to find board members and 20 percent say it is very difficult. But, you KNOW people, you have an amazing mission. So why isn’t the public banging down your door? Well, it’s not you, it's them…. Except, well, maybe it is you. Because when it comes to recruiting new Board members, you could be your own worst enemy.
We know it’s a tough pill to swallow. But it’s ok. Most nonprofits struggle with creating and maintaining their Board of Director's numbers and engagement level. But if you’re waiting for JT or any of his celebrity pals to show up at your Board meeting, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. We don’t care how many letters you wrote, it’s going to take a lot more than that to bring new Board members into the mix. And we don’t mean warm bodies; we mean, engaged, active Board members who help your organization get to the next level. So, you built it, why aren’t they coming?
- No One’s Asking
Maybe you think it’s not your job. After all, you’re not on the nominating committee, you’re new to the Board, or you’ve been on so long you’ve exhausted your rolodex (and isn’t it the Development Director’s job anyway?). But guess what happens when an entire Board thinks that way? So bad news, friends, it IS your job. Recruiting Board members is a prime responsibility of being on the Board. While Executive Staff can help you facilitate introductions, identify prospects and steward your donors, it’s the Board's job to be asking. All the time. Add it to your Board meeting agendas. Establish goals. Make asking a metric you measure.
2. No One Knows You Exist
“We’re the Best Kept Secret in the Community” is something we hear a lot. But shedding that banner is going to be necessary if you want to attract new Board members. Take a good look at your outreach into the community. If your website makes you cringe, it's probably not doing much to boost your appeal to potential Board members either. So fix up your digital presence. But it doesn’t stop there. Be present in your own community. Existing Board and staff are your community ambassadors, make sure someone is attending key community events and ensuring your presence, which helps you shake that “best kept secret” banner.
3. It’s Who You Know
We hate to be THOSE people, but it's all about who you already know. Your best source of referrals is your current network. Don’t try cold calling people or putting up a craigslist ad. Look into your own ranks and figure out who your Board, staff, existing donors and volunteers already know. Be willing to grow people from those ranks and have a place to do it. A junior board, an event committee, or even volunteer positions are fantastic opportunities to test out potential Board members.
4. You’re Aiming Out of Your League
Every Board wants (or should at least) that Board member with a thick rolodex, a large giving capacity, technical know-how and the time (and willingness) to give all three. But you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is not at the top of the totem pole. Start where you’re at. If your Board members are setting a give/get at $500, don’t solicit new Board members at the $5k mark and ‘grandfather in’ your existing Board. Take a good look at where you are, stop sending those cold letters to Mrs. Obama, and you’ll find lots of talent right under your nose.
5. You Don’t Have a Plan
Of course, all of the above advice is completely useless if you don’t plan. As your 10th grade English teacher said, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”…or something like that. But do not expect Board members to appear out of thin air. Stop staring at the phone and make a PLAN on how you’re going to grow your visibility, cultivate the leads you already have and make a solid (numerical) goal on how many Board members you will bring in by the end of the year. You can do it. (Or, you know, we can help).
Need a Hand? We Can: