At a recent New ED Network discussion centered on board composition and how to move from having ‘warm bodies’ or ‘social friends’ of current board members to purposefully composing a balanced, engaged, effective board.
First, board members must believe in the mission and work of the organization, serve the best interests of the organization and not personal agendas, and actively contribute their skills and funds to assure current and long-term sustainability. In addition, a balance of skills and demographic characteristics are essential in developing true capacity-building boards.
While different skills are needed at different stages of a nonprofit’s lifecycle (moving from hands-on in start-ups to policy making with little hands-on in maturity), the following skills need to be present on all boards.
- Financial expertise / Investment experience
- Fundraising experience
- Legal expertise: knowledge of legal issues and requirements for nonprofits
- Property and facility management and construction (depending on facilities and capital planning)
- Marketing and Communication
- Small business experience/ entrepreneurship
- Personnel / HR practices
- Nonprofit management; systems
- Governance: policy development; roles and responsibilities of board; strategic thinking
- *Program/service knowledge
Demographics should reflect the community you serve and/or want to serve. Take some time as a board and ED to determine the demographics needed to bring a balance of perspectives to the table when strategically governing the organization. Some demographic characteristics include: hands-on or policy focused; business/community leaders; racial/ethnic diversity; age, education, wealth diversity; English/foreign languages; educational levels; for-profit, nonprofit, faith-based; male/female/LGBT; community connections; personal networks. Boards should not be made up of people just because they ‘like’ each other; this is important (volunteer) governance work, not social engagement.
A grid can be made with these skills and desired balance of demographic characteristics across the top and names of current board members and their term ending dates down the side. *Program/service knowledge is helpful, especially in the early start-up stage; once established, the staff will be more important in this area than board members. Other skills may be needed depending on your particular situation.
Check all the skills and demographics each person brings to the board. Then, look for holes and recruit only people with the needed skills or demographic (hopefully contributing in both skills and demographics) profiles.
Give it a try. It’s quite revealing and powerful in helping you think strategically about recruiting new board members or replacing term-limited positions.
Finding people to fill specific positions can be challenging and will take outreach and active listening by the board members and executive director on an ongoing basis to gather names of potential recruits without ‘inviting’ them to join the board.
The process of formally recruiting is the role of the board nominating committee. Prior to the annual meeting and elections, they convene to assess the current grid and potential recruits that fit needed profiles, prioritize people to approach for each position, and develop a plan for who will do the asking of each person and in what order. The process includes sharing information about the mission and constituents, programs and services, board service requirements, and realistic expectations of time, activities, and financial contributions.
A proactive, systematic process and formal procedures for identifying, recruiting, and educating potential board members will help enlist people who will truly help advance your mission and secure the organization’s future.
A balanced, engaged, effective board.