One of the most frequently asked questions we revolve around is how to find passionate, engaged, committed nonprofit board members. We counsel our clients that fully achieving a high functioning board of directors involves comprehensive board development, not just recruiting the right people – but we do understand that finding candidates is often a tremendous challenge, particularly for smaller organizations and those going through transitions. We’ve always felt the search for nonprofit board members is a bit like looking for romance, complete with angst-ridden courtships, elaborate proposals, heartbreak, and even a little true love. But lately, we’ve become true believers in applying lessons from the dating world to nonprofit board recruitment to help everyone avoid the drama. Here are some tips to make your search for those perfect board members a little more “Disney happy ending” and less “Romeo and Juliet”:
1. Have a “Wish List”
You’re much more likely to find who you want if you understand (and can articulate) what you’re looking for. We encourage nonprofits to broaden this wish list beyond just skills/expertise (yes, every board wants a CPA) and wealth (believe it or not, rich board members don’t always equate to well-resourced nonprofits). Think about the personal characteristics, perspectives, experiences, and networks that will be beneficial to your organization When we’ve led this type of discussion with boards, we often hear things like candidates who are: available to actively participate, ask strategic questions, hold themselves accountable… intangibles that often aren’t part of the board search process but can have a huge impact on the success and productivity of the group.
2. Fools Rush In
It takes two to tango, right? Too often, nonprofit boards are very focused on finding their perfect new members and don’t “court” candidates, listen to their interests, or provide the essential support for new board members to thrive – and then everyone is shocked when it doesn’t work out. Good board candidates should evaluate you too – and they’ll be selective about which board they join. Beyond just making a good impression in how you introduce candidates to your organization and interview them, you also need to address how you’ll provide the experience the candidate is seeking (in an authentic way, of course). We also strongly encourage boards to tell candidates about the orientation process and other ways they train and support board members.
3. Check Your Friends List
It’s so “When Harry Met Sally,” but that movie is a classic for a reason. The people you already know (and who already like you) are the ones most likely to be interested in and ready to make a bigger commitment. Nonprofits often look at major donors as potential board members – but what about loyal volunteers, young supporters who have served as ambassadors, and corporate supporters with a pool of skilled professionals seeking community leadership opportunities? The people who have proven they are invested in your mission often check the “passion” and “commitment” boxes, but too often nonprofits don’t go deep enough into their databases to find those hidden gems. And for board members, it’s far easier to dive into board service with an organization where they already have a basic lay of the land.
4. Swipe Right (Take advantage of technology)
Match.com, Tinder, Bumble… in 2018, there’s no lack of technology tools to help you find that special someone. The options for nonprofits and board candidates aren’t as extensive (yet!) – but there are some very solid tools that can be used to support your search. VolunteerMatch offers postings for board positions, and there are options to connect those postings to LinkedIn at no cost. (If your organization isn’t already using LinkedIn, start by creating an organization profile page and asking your current board members to list their board service in the “volunteer experience” section of their personal profiles.) Through LinkedIn, nonprofits can post a board position, and they can also search for professionals who indicated interest in “board service.” In case you’re dubious about how many folks actually check that box, a recent search for people in the greater Los Angeles area who marked an interest in board service in their LinkedIn profile yielded 95,871 results. Of course, like all technology that brings people together, in online board searches you have to filter to find your best candidates – and always hold your final judgment until you meet “IRL”.
5. Fish Where The Fish Are
It’s one of those annoyingly obvious dating clichés, but if you’re trying to find love, you have to go where single people hang out. And in the search for new board members, nonprofits have to go beyond their regular circles to get to know people in the community with different backgrounds, skills and perspectives that could be valuable for their organizations. We find chambers of commerce, local leadership programs, young professionals groups, and alumni associations are often excellent places to meet individuals with community interests and a desire to give back.
6. Lean On Your Cupid
Sometimes we all need a little help to find romance. In nonprofit organizations, there’s significant value in reaching beyond your existing networks to identify board candidates. One way to broaden your pool of board candidates is to use the “blue ribbon nominating committee” conceived by Jan Masaoka and brilliantly explained in her classic Blue Avocado article. The essence of the strategy is to bring together influential people who are NOT board candidates and ask them to introduce you to potential board candidates. Another avenue is to participate in board match programs through local leadership programs.
We’re here to help too: we recently rebranded our longstanding board matchmaking mixers as CauseCupid, relaxed events that introduce nonprofits to local professionals interested in board service. We also host dedicated “cupid events” for organizations seeking to substantially build their boards and companies interested in leadership opportunities for their employees.
We wish you only good luck in your search for active, wise and generous board members! May you find your happily ever after without too many swipe lefts or romanced frogs.