6 Easy Steps To Nonprofit Board Recruitment

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Confession: I love governance committees!

Whether the committee calls itself “board governance” or “board development” or “board recruitment,” its priority is to bring into the fold the very best future board members from all walks of life with the widest variety of talents and experiences.

It’s not an easy task!

Even if it is done poorly, as is the case more often than not for most small-to-medium-sized charities, there is a fair amount of effort expended.

So if it is going to take a fair amount of effort, why not spend a bit more time, add some organization and do it properly?

The answer has to be yes when one considers what this means to the funding of and the fulfillment of any charity’s mission!

The board sets the strategy, hires the CEO, is fiscally responsible and is the first degree of separation for virtually all major funders/donors/sponsors. The difference between a mediocre board and an exceptional board is almost too impactful to describe in a blog post!

Here are six easy steps that can make such a difference.

Step 1 – Committee Composition

You can tell how important any group or committee is by examining who is part of it and who is leading. If you have done your job and eliminated the dreaded executive committee, then you already have the ideal core group of key people for your governance committee.

Honestly, would any decent size commercial business ask a first-year rookie salesperson to be in charge of recruiting partners or worse yet future executive leadership? Of course not, so how can newer and perhaps less influential board members do anywhere near the job as experienced board members with a huge Rolodex of peers?

Net it out, if this is very important to the future of the organization, then very important people need to be involved. As chairman of any board, this is the first committee I would place myself on.

Remember, this is merely succession planning in disguise…

Step 2 – Schedule of Meetings

If we all agree this committee’s work is vital then it must meet regularly with a few assignments between the meetings. This is not work that can be handled in a once a year or even once a quarter meetings.

My suggestion is that this committee meets every other month and alternate between a face-to-face meeting and a conference call. This is not a committee where the work can stop and start. It must be a continuous flow of action.

Step 3 – Spreading the Word

Spreading the net out to reach a wide variety of potential board members MUST start with the most experienced and most respected members of the existing board.

Think about it, if certain experienced board members are respected in your board room, then more than likely they will be respected by the outside world. You are NOT going to stir interest in the candidates you really want in future board roles unless an individual they respect makes the contact.

One key caveat that I see happen nearly 50% of the time. The suggested candidates should not come from your organization’s CEO.


The board is who evaluates the performance of the CEO. The CEO should not be picking friends and past co-workers for such an important duty. The CEO can add opinion to who makes the final cut, but as only a single vote among many.

Step 4 – Multiple Candidates for Each Slot

Board candidates must not assume if they say they are interested they are automatically in. No nonprofit is that desperate!

You need to recruit multiple candidates for every open slot. More than likely, this is what you did when you last replaced your CEO and this is the group above the CEO on your organization chart…

How can you make this happen? Pure and simple you must have a process.

The recruiting and invitation process is one of the first vital subjects for your committee to agree upon. This process should allow for:

  • A wide variety of board prospects
  • A minimum of three candidates for each open slot
  • A method of asking, which invites them to APPLY
  • An application process that clearly states there will be multiple interviews and asking about previous board member experiences/results
  • Creating a bench to draw from such as committee membership or advisory council status first
  • Term limits so they can roll off the board, recharge and then come back later if they are exceptional

Step 5 – Recruitment Criteria

Here are my favorite characteristics of an outstanding board member:

  • Pre-existing passion for the cause
  • Eagerness to participate at every meeting
  • Willing to prepare ahead for meetings
  • Anxious to serve on committees
  • Ability and propensity to give above average financially
  • Strong desire for stewardship to others
  • Supportive, but willing to express their own opinion
  • Strives to learn as much as possible
  • Respected in the community
  • Previous board or committee experience at a successful charity

The latter two of the ten above needs to be loosened a bit for a portion of the board where such criteria might prove to restricting. The portions being referred to are youth and various ethnic groups. If they are not present your board will not truly have the widest variety of talents and experiences.

Step 6 – Onboarding

This final step is included here because it sets the stage for success of the other five steps going forward.

It must begin with a proper board orientation. This should be at least a half-day in length and can be held just prior to their first board meeting if travel is involved.

There should also be a board application, personal commitment agreement and a self-evaluation agreement used. My good friend Lori Jacobwith shares examples of these three critical documents and more with her eBook Mission Possible: Creating An Engaged Board.

Proper onboarding allows new board members to become very engaged and successful board members in much less time. In fact, when done properly it can almost guarantee success. Guess who are the best recruiters then in the future?

Seldom, have I found all six of my above steps in place at the same time. Perhaps that will not be the case in the future as we share these insights. May your next new class of board members be the best ever!

Have you used any of these six steps before? Any others you would suggest? Let me know in the comments below!

Read more on Business 2 Community 

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