Board Guide

Locating Board Members

First, let’s talk a little bit about the importance board members play in the operation of a nonprofit organization and how to find the best board members for your organization. (You may also want to check our link to “Board Development” for more information.)

Below are some key ideas to help REAP results when you are considering potential board members:

  • Review the organization’s mission and strategic plan and be able to describe it clearly and succinctly to prospective board members.
  • Effective boards are made up of a broad spectrum of knowledge, experience, and interests.
  • Assess current board strengths and gaps in expertise before shopping for new board members.
  • Prepare to be on the look-out for potential board members on a continuing basis.
  • Show diligence to orient the board member to his or her new duties.

Review the Nonprofit’s Mission and Strategic Plan

Review the organization mission and strategic plan and be prepared to give a five minute description of current goals and recent accomplishments. This makes it possible for you to “sow a seed” about your organization in many places and makes effective use of your time, as well as respecting the time of the prospective board member.

Become familiar with the background of the prospective board member. It’s not enough to say: “Joe Smith is important-Let’s ask him!” It is more effective to say: “Our board member, Jane Doe, said that she served with you on the XYZ board and you were very helpful with human resource questions. As our organization is growing, we would benefit from a board member with similar knowledge. I wonder if you would be interested in learning more about our organization?” This opens the door for the person to be helpful, even if they do not have time to become a board member at the present time.

Effective boards are made up of a spectrum of talents

Boards are charged with the governance of the nonprofit organization, making sure that it abides by ethical and legal standards in making its vision a reality. Here are some common questions to ask in developing a well-rounded board:

Does the board reflect the community with respect to age, gender, and ethnicity?

Does the board reflect a knowledge of and experience in financial, business and legal professions?

Does the board contain members who have personal influence and financial resources to help attract support to the organization?

Does the board contain representation from those whom it serves?

A good question to ask: If a visitor from another country attended our meeting, would he or she go away with an accurate idea about who we are and what we do?

Assess the strengths and gaps in the composition of the current board.

A good rule of thumb in conducting board member searches is “Don’t look for people who are like yourself.” While a wide variety of board members may need more time to get “up to speed,” the broader viewpoints expressed can strengthen the board when differences are managed and not allowed to bog down the agenda.

Like staff, most board members appreciate being given meaningful work and having their time respected.

Prepare to be on the lookout for board members on a continuing basis

This bears repeating:  “Be on the lookout at all times for new prospective board members.” You cannot expect to find the best individual or individuals if you are rushing at the end of the year to select who you would like to ask to serve on your board. Also, do some preplanning, and talk to the individual ahead of time to make sure what your organization does is of some interest or passion of the prospective board member.  A good tip is to also look in your newspaper for the people who are in the news and successful in their profession.

Don’t limit your search by assuming that certain people would not be interested in your type of organization. Many people like to volunteer outside the scope of their profession and use their talents in a capacity that fulfills a personal or family interest. For example, an accountant may be invited to join a board because of his or her professional expertise,  yet, what the individual may really want is an opportunity to do something hands-on, such as cook for a fund raiser. Remember that you are inviting a person to join the board, not just a skill base.

Online Opportunities to Search for Board Members

Some web sites offer online opportunities to find board members. Here’s one:

Show Diligence to Orient a New Board Member

Invitation to Serve on a Board

It helps if you first talk to someone informally, maybe over lunch, about serving on your nonprofit board. If the person shows interest the formal invitation usually is made by a member of the board’s nomination committee or board president.

**Note that if a person is too busy but you really need them to help your organization it is good not to pressure someone to join the board; rather, ask if it would be okay to only to bring them in on short term projects to help as an advisor to the board.

Once someone agrees to be on the board the job is not complete until that person is fully versed and understands all aspects of what the organization does and sometimes does not do.

Below is a helpful list of things that should be included in a board welcome packet:

History of organization in concise, interesting way
Methodology (the way the organization does its work)
Management Structure
Staff and Volunteer Roles

It is important in this overview process that the new board member fully understand the current and possible future challenges that face the organization. Also, it is very important to understand where the organization is NOW in its development in relationships both internal and external.

Board/Community Leaders  (City & County Government …etc.)
United Way
Other Funding Sources

Information (State of the Organization: present and changing)
“Your organization is like a tree; it is either dying or growing!” Only the board can determine the outcome! One key to having a successful organization is in looking at its committee structure.

Most nonprofits have the following committees:

Executive Committee     Board Development/ Nominating Committee

Personnel Committee     Finance Committee

Fund Raising (All board members are responsible for raising funds, not just a select few!)

Programs Committee     Facilities Committee

Communication & Marketing Committee
For nonprofits one of the biggest failures is not having a committee
to communicate both internal & external the basic who, what, when, where and why of your organization!

Involvement (Individual and Collective Board ACTION is needed to meet the organization’s needs, objectives, and goals.)  Everyone is a player on a successful nonprofit team. No one sits on the bench!

The following are just a few of the activities your board should be involved in: Policy/Governance
Support (giving and acquisition)
Stewardship (of organization’s assets)
Planning (in meaningful partnership with executive director)
Committee Service
Individual Efforts

Use the marketing perspective: What’s in it for the Board Member?

What turns the Board member “ON”?

Interpret and associate the organization’s mission, purpose and accomplishments with the Board Member’s needs, dreams, desires, hopes, etc. This is the main responsibility of the executive director. While this is easier said than done, it is an important step in merging the interests of the board and the board member.

Evaluation of individual and collective Board productivity in relation to roles and responsibilities which were/are determined in response to organization’s need, objectives, and goals.

Board Member Evaluation Checklist
(Feel free to copy and paste to a word document for your nonprofit to use!)

1. Attend no less than 75% of regular Board Meetings.

2. Chair and/or serve on a standing committee or special project.

3. Make a personal and if possible business contribution to the organization’s annual operating needs.

4. Participate in or attend most of the program activities involving the operation.

5. Arrange for and/or make an organization presentation to a civic club, church group, business associate, or group of friends.

6. Make at least five person-to-person visits to individuals, foundations, businesses, or civic groups to request financial contribution for the organization.

7. Invite and accompany a friend or associate to visit the facility.

8. Recommend a potential candidate for Board membership to the Board Development Committee.

9. Secure a volunteer, in-kind service or material goods for the organization.

10. Review and consider your capacity and willingness to make a planned gift or bequest to the organization.

11. Secure at least ten new donors for the organization.

12. Actively assist with the special events of the organization.

Signature of Board Member      Date

Signature of Board President    Date

Signature of Executive Director  Date

OK, we covered a lot of material.

To Recap:

  • Review the organization’s mission and describe it clearly to prospective board members.
  • Effective boards need to reflect a broad range of knowledge, experience, and interests.
  • Assess current board strengths and needs before shopping for new board members.
  • Prepare to look for potential board members on a continuing basis.
  • Show diligence to orient the board member to his or her new duties.

Worth a Thought…. A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her.   David Brinkley

Additional Resources:

BWB Solutions helps nonprofit organizations accomplish their mission. They work with all types of nonprofits, helping them become stronger through strategic planning, research, board development and organizational capacity building. Make sure and also check out their blog:

Lastly, below are just a few other websites online filled with information
to help you have a better board of directors!

Board Source    Nonprofit Board Crisis   Volunteer Today