Just as a college football coach recruits players with the talent to help his team win, a nonprofit organization needs to find board members who have the skill sets and viewpoints which mesh with its vision, mission, goals and needs. And, as the football coach is continually recruiting to replace players who graduate, the nonprofit recruitment process is an ongoing affair.

Football teams require a variety of players to fill the various positions on the team. Likewise, a nonprofit board of directors needs the right blend of skill sets, expertise, community connections, and varied perspectives.

There is not any one formula for determining what the best mix of people is for a nonprofit board. The old architectural adage about form following function applies. Each organization needs to evaluate its own needs and priorities and recruit members accordingly. Before recruiting, it is critical to establish the skills and expertise that are needed by the particular nonprofit organization. A question that the nonprofit may wish to answer is, “what is the ideal mix of professional skills, resources, backgrounds, experience, community connections, and other characteristics that the board requires to meet the organization’s challenges over the next three to five years.”

A helpful first step in navigating this process is analyzing the current board. This information can be used to compare the existing board membership with the characteristics the organization is seeking in order to meet current and future challenges. Many reputable sources, as well as we here at Align, suggest creating a board matrix in order to accomplish this. A matrix assists by outlining the current mix of skills, demographics (age, gender, ethnic group, etc.), and expertise on the current board, which can be compared to the ideal mix that was identified earlier.

Once gaps are identified, profiles of prospective candidates who would fill these gaps can be developed. Draft a short description that includes the specific skills, expertise, or other characteristics desired.

Now that the nature of the recruits has been determined, the organization needs to identify individuals who fit the bill and engage them to determine their interest in serving. Once prospective board members have been identified, make a list and rank the candidates. Then schedule a meeting with each candidate to discuss the organization’s mission, finances, current board composition, and expectations of board members. Obtain an indication of the prospects willingness to serve on the board. The visits should occur in the order of the ranking. When a slate of nominees is filled, the visits should stop.

One point to keep in mind is that existing board members have a responsibility to help identify and assist in recruitment of their replacement. Generally individual board members will be most familiar with others who possess similar skill sets to themselves and are in a good position to help “sell” a replacement for themselves on the board.

Once the new members have been recruited and elected the organization needs to provide an orientation process, no matter how extensive their previous board experience may be. The orientation is an initiation to board service; an introduction to the organization, its mission, and programs; clarification of future time and financial demands; an opportunity to get to know the other members; and an opportunity to form an educated foundation for the coming years on the board. An effective orientation is a chance to speed up the learning curve of new members and get them quickly engaged in the board’s activities.

One method to assist with the orientation and development of board members is to provide a board manual. It is suggested that such a document contain the following:

  • General information – Lists of members, terms, and committees
  • Legal/Historical Documents – Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, tax exempt determination letter, history
  • Organizational Planning Documents – Vision, mission, value statements, strategic plan
  • Board policies – Conflict of Interest, Board Attendance, Grievance Procedures, Robert’s Rules of Order
  • Finances – Budget, Most Recent Audited Financial Statements, Financial Statements and Reports
  • Organizational Information – Organization chart, staff listings
  • Other Information – Promotional materials, fund raising plans, personnel policies

Every current board member has a role in orientation; whether to function as a mentor, make a presentation, or just getting to know the new members.

Maintaining a flow of talented, dedicated board members and integrating them into the team is critical to the continued success of any nonprofit. Happy recruiting!

Bill Benskin
Align Vice President