Nonprofit Board Recruitment

Five Principles for Nonprofit Board Recruitment

Recently on  LinkedIn Group, a nonprofit board member asked an extended version of a question that faces many nonprofit organizations: “Where do you find board and committee volunteers?  In response I briefly dashed off a few thought that I have gleaned from my personal experiences serving on nonprofit boards and from my consulting practice with nonprofit organizations. 
  In this post, I thought I would be useful to put together some principles for recruiting a high performing nonprofit board.

1.  Be clear about who you are and what you do. The first principle of board recruitment is to be clear about who you are and what you do. So prompting questions might include: Is your board a managing board Managing? Delegating? What attributes do board members need to have? Skills? Knowledge? Fundraising savvy? Civic Reach? Do you have solid board policies and operating procedures to quickly orient and integrate new board members? Are the answers to the above clearly spelled out in a recruitment packet?

2.  Start with the connections you can make internally.  It is safe to say that your strongest board members come from within the network of your nonprofit agency.  Before posting recruitment announcement on community bulletin boards or publishing a volunteer announcement on Craigslist or your communities equivalent of the Community Nonprofit Resource Group I recommend that the Board do three things:

•   Review their Rolodex and LinkedIn profile looking for folks that might be interested in board service. Hopefully current board members are passionate enough about what your agency is doing to encourage their colleagues to consider board service.  If not, perhaps you need to start with the question: why? Ideally recruiting through board connections should come with some social distance as over-recruiting folks who are too close to each other as that can create a skewed board dynamic (especially on a smaller board),

•  Ask the senior staff of the organization should consider current and recent funding agencies, key client and vendor relationships and reach out to these folks and ask them for recommendations. You might be surprised who is in the network of your building’s property management company or the customer relation contact at your financial services provider.

•  Do an internal review of individual donors, social media contacts, and those who serve in other volunteer capacities within the organization.  Community members that are currently contributing to your organization in other capacities are potential board members.  Personal outreach to those currently engaged should be high on your recruitment priority list.

3.  Reach out to your extended network.  Another principle is to reach out to peer organizations both within your region and outside of your region. Think of those extended organizations that you respect and/or those with whom you have existing collaborative relationships. Let the leaders of such organizations know that you are looking for board members and that you would be interested in referrals from within their network. Thinking of Oregon, if your agency is based in Portland, the leadership of an agency doing similar work in Bend or Medford might know people in Portland that they could connect you with.

4.  Look out into the Community. Of course, you also will reach out into the community with the goal of expanding your “gene pool.” Connecting with business chambers, civic groups (Rotary, Lions, etc.), workforce development centers, young leader networks, and other business leaders, should be considered as you develop a targeted outreach strategy. With each outreach you should be able to identify the purpose and goal connecting with specific groups.  Perhaps it is specifically looking for one more board member with business acumen or marketing experience.  Or perhaps you are seeking to broaden the age demographic of the board.  Considering purpose will help you focus the limited time and resources you can invest in outreach.

5.  Remember that it is about relationship building first. A final principle is to remember that every recruitment strategy is about building relationships rather than blasting out a “help wanted” advertising approach. The greatest mistake a nonprofit can make is to add board members simply for the sake of adding board members. Collectively, board members are responsible for managing a nonprofit enterprise and successful management is based on relationships and shared leadership. I would argue that a board candidate brings to a board, first and foremost, the ability to work in relationship to others. Relationships matter to a high performing board.

The literature tells us that successful boards are connected the mission of the organization; represent diverse skills to enhance the corporate management of the enterprise, civic reach, and resources.  They work well together and, in the best of worlds, play well together as well. Given this reality, thinking clearly and intentionally about recruiting nonprofit board members has to be deliberate, focused, and carefully orchestrated.  Recruitment based on clear guiding principles will help position your nonprofit to recruit a high performing board.


~ Mark

Photo Credit  Dagmara Owsiejczyk


Mark Fulop
Mark founded Facilitation & Process in 2009 to help organizations and communities bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. He’s led dozens of Portland nonprofits, government agencies and philanthropic organizations through complex change initiatives including strategic planning, revenue planning, board development, collaboration, and facilitation.

1 Comment

  1. Exellent blog post, Mark. I’ve served on several nonprofit boards and I’ve always appreciated those organizations that give prospective board members a summary of expectations. This helps the organization be clear about its needs and board members know how they can best contribute.

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