Your Board of Directors is your organization’s leadership team. Finding the right board members is essential to ensuring the success of your nonprofit. Still, many organizations do not know where to start.
Building your Board is a continuing process is not a one-step obligation. Too many nonprofits only focus on finding new board members when they lose someone. This is the worst way to create a strong board that you will need to depend on as your organization grows. With this article, we hope to increase your knowledge of board member responsibilities, who should be recruiting board members, and how you can build a board leadership pipeline.
What does a Board Member do?
Your board members are the decision-makers regarding your nonprofit’s policies, activities, human resources, fundraising, and more. They have a responsibility to monitor the organization’s strengths and weaknesses and support and evaluate the Executive Director.
Finding the right board members starts with analyzing your organization to see where your current Board is lacking and what skills, experience, and expertise it already has. The responsibilities and expectations of board members can vary depending on the size and type of your organization. The following are several legal responsibilities of a nonprofit’s Board of Directors.
Board Member Responsibilities
- Attend board and committee meetings and special events
- Know and understand the organization’s mission, services, policies, and programs
- Review meeting agendas and supporting materials before board and committee meetings
- Serve on committee task forces
- Make a personal financial contribution to the organization
- Inform others about the organization
- Keep up to date on the organization’s field of operations
- Follow conflict-of-interest and confidentiality policies
- Assist the Board in carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities, such as reviewing financial statements
Who should be responsible for board recruitment?
It is tempting to leave the responsibility of board recruitment to your Executive Director or Board Chairperson, but everyone on your Board should be responsible for researching and recruiting potential board members.
To include your board members in recruiting new board members, it is best to develop a Governance Committee. This committee is created to find new board members and oversee the effectiveness of the board overall. Below are a few of the responsibilities of this committee.
1. Governance Committee Responsibilities:
- Create a position description for board members and chairpersons
- Assist the Board in updating and clarifying the primary area of focus for the Board based on the strategic plan
- Set and maintain the annual board calendar
- Periodically review the size, composition, and operation of the Board and each committee
- Identify potential board candidates and explore their interest and availability
- Nominate individuals to be elected as board members
- In cooperation with the Board President, contact each board member to assess his or her continuing board membership and terms of service
- Develop and oversee a plan to enhance diversity on the Board
To ensure the effectiveness of your Board, it is best to have a pipeline of potential leaders on your Board to take over the role of chairperson in case of turn-over. This means finding several strong board members and giving everyone a chance to develop their leadership skills on a committee or board activity. The Governance Committee is a perfect place for potential leaders to develop some of these skills.
Once you have developed a strong Governance Committee, you may think you are ready to start recruiting board members. The process of building a board is longer than you may expect. Before recruiting any new members, your Governance Committee should ask a few questions first.
- Is your current Board engaged?
- Are board members attending the meetings?
- Is the Board structured in a way that supports staff and the needs of the organization?
- Do committees add value to the Board?
- Are the outcomes of the meetings useful?
- Is there accountability?
These questions can give you a better idea of the areas that need work on your Board.
Once you have answered these questions, it is time to create a detailed job description for your board members. This will help you find the right people for the job and keep current and potential board members accountable for their roles in the organization.
When creating a board member description, it should include several areas of focus:
When anyone signs up for responsibility, they hope to get something out of it. Board membership is no different. While you hope to find board members who care deeply about the organization’s mission, a few perks could not hurt the recruiting process.
Board members on every Board can benefit from attending special events through the professional contacts and the visibility it gives them in the community. Board members who join committees are also afforded a level of credibility and admiration when achieving an organization’s goals.
3. Responsibilities and Authorities
Creating clear leadership and responsibility levels will help define your board member’s roles within the organization and their expectations of who they must report to. This is also where you can explain the difference between the Board’s role as a governing body as opposed to the Executive Director’s position as manager.
When it comes to board officers or committee heads, it is best to define these roles and ensure that all members understand who is accountable for each board’s responsibility. This clear definition will also help in clearing up any question on the role of general board members.
4. Board Member and Officer Terms
Depending on the state, board officers have maximum and minimum term limits. The term limits should be recorded in your organization’s bylaws. These term limits will clear up any questions potential board members have on how long they are expected to serve, why and how they can resign, and why they may be removed.
5. Time Commitment
The question of time commitment is likely one of the first questions potential board members will ask. The individuals you are recruiting to your Board are busy people and have their own professional and personal responsibilities. It is best to have a well-thought-out expectation of how many hours board members need to give to your organization. When thinking about this, you will need to include board meetings, committee meetings, and the time required to review material and prepare for the meetings.
6. Legal and Financial Commitments
The legal and financial responsibilities of board members are often misunderstood. When recruiting a potential board member, make sure they understand the legal implications of taking on this role. Encourage them to read your organization’s bylaws and clearly explain the financial obligations board members have to the organization.
Board Member Orientation
Now that you have a Governance Committee and a Board Member Description, you are ready to start looking for new board members, right?
Not quite. Once you have found and decided on a new board member, you will want to start their term off on the right foot.
Board positions should be looked at like any staff member when it comes to onboarding. So, before you welcome a new board member, you should have a well-thought-out orientation packet and process that has been approved by the Board.
All new board members should go through an orientation before their first board meeting. This way, you will know your board members are ready to get to work. Here are some of the areas where each board member needs more information:
1. An overview of the organization
Each member of your Board will be expected to go out in the community to speak about the organization. Your nonprofit’s mission and vision must be on their mind every time they do this. With that in mind, there are a few ways to inform all board members of the organization’s mission and goals regularly.
Each time you recruit a new board member, make sure they receive an orientation packet with the mission and vision stated on the first page. Throughout their membership, you should also include your organization’s mission on meeting agendas and reports whenever you can. The more your board members see the organization’s mission, the easier it will stick in their heads.
Pro tip: When hiring new board members, it’s vital that they already embody the values your organization is based on. Your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy and even goals might change, but values will remain strong and a board member should always strengthen it.
2. Organization charts
Each board member should also understand the structure of your nonprofit. Your orientation packet should include an organization chart with the board and board committees, executive director, staff, and additional volunteer committees.
3. Annual report and other important financial reports
This may seem like an obvious piece of information, but many nonprofit board members do not always have access to the organization’s annual report and other critical financial reports. Your nonprofit’s annual report should be easily accessible on your website.
If your nonprofit does not have an annual report, you will want to rethink that decision. An annual report is your chance to show donors the areas you have been successful and where you still need their help.
If you do not know where to start writing your annual report, we have written a guide to writing an effective nonprofit annual report.
4. Role Description
As we have discussed, this is essential to ensure each new board member understands their role within the organization. When first meeting a potential board member, you should have given them a copy of the board member role description.
5. Strategic Plan
A nonprofit should avoid fundraising without a strategic plan. Your board members should be aware of your organization’s plan and see where they can step in and support the work being done by the Executive Director and their fundraising staff.
6. Schedule of board meetings and locations
Making sure your board members are aware of the time and location of meetings is important. You can also include a board meeting agenda with your orientation packet to give new board members a better idea of how each meeting is organized. We’ve written an article on run an effective nonprofit board meeting to get a good idea of what to include in your agenda.
7. Contact List
Your board members should always be able to contact each other and the particular staff of the organization. You will want to include contact information for the board chairperson and all board members. It is best to keep staff contact information to the Executive Director and Development Director to avoid confusion about management versus governing roles for board members.
Finding Nonprofit Board Members
Now it is time to search and find new board members. This is the easy part. When you finally reach this point, there is no end to where you can find board members.
1. Look for referrals and word-of-mouth
The first place to start is through referrals and word-of-mouth. After your Governance Committee finds out what your Board is lacking, you may realize you need certain skills on your Board. Most boards will require board members with marketing, legal, and financial backgrounds. Other organizations need experts in technical backgrounds like medicine. This is different for each nonprofit.
Whether you are looking for a specific background or special skills, your best source for finding these individuals will be word-of-mouth. Ask your current board members first if they have any recommendations. After that, staff and community connections may have a person in mind.
2. Check your active volunteers
Volunteers are another excellent starting point to find new board members. These individuals already know of your nonprofit and are most likely passionate about what you do. Your volunteer program is another place you can start a leadership pipeline to find new board members.
If your organization has event committees or young adult leadership groups, you should be keeping an eye out for any volunteers who stand out. While these volunteers may not be perfect or even see themselves as potential board members, you do not want to ignore these volunteers’ potential.
Social media is another crucial tool for nonprofits and one that board members rarely use. When looking for new board members, why not use your organization’s Facebook or LinkedIn page? Your monthly newsletter can also be used in the same way. Your social media and newsletters are read by those donors and volunteers who care what your organization is up to, so why not reach out and let them know what you are looking for?
Many nonprofit organizations also decide to advertise outside of their donor base. Put an ad in your town’s newspaper or advertise with a local volunteer network to reach an entirely new community.
4. Online networks and other organizations
If your town does not have a volunteer network, there are many choices online. Websites like BoardnetUSA, Bridgespan, Idealist.org, and LinkedIn Board Connect are all places your nonprofit can find potential board members that would not have heard about you otherwise.
Linkedin has numerous nonprofit communities and nonprofit network groups. Your next potential board member might be a part of this community and working with a different organization. Check our online nonprofit networks to find nonprofit professionals who are
When recruiting for your nonprofit’s Board of Directors, you should never wait until you must find someone. Developing a strong board will take a well-planned leadership pipeline and the work of all board members. Understand the Board’s role in your organization and where you need to improve, create a committee for recruitment, and plan an orientation process to help you in your search before talking to a single person.