How to Find and Screen Prospective Nonprofit Board Members

Finding board members who will add value to an organization can be challenging. If you are starting a nonprofit, or filling a board vacancy, your organization should undertake the due diligence necessary to meet its mission by adding competent board members.

Nonprofit board members who are engaged, motived, and hardworking are crucial for the success of any nonprofit. If you are seeking to start a nonprofit, or if you are part of a board seeking to fill a vacancy, there are a number of considerations for finding and screening prospective board members.

Determine Your Nonprofit’s Needs

Each nonprofit organization's mission and goals are different. Your nonprofit should assess its organizational needs before undertaking a search for a board member. Such an assessment should be conducted by the members of the board, and could include others involved in helping the nonprofit meet its mission: the executive director, key employees, and long-term volunteers, among others.

Discuss what skills, experience, training, fundraising, and education the prospective board member should possess that would be most beneficial for your organization. After the assessment, or as part of the assessment, it might be prudent to form a search committee, or similar committee, such as a nominating committee, to handle the task of searching, vetting, and training board members.

As a side note, if your nonprofit does not have governance policies, or a governance committee, consider creating or reviewing existing policies or forming a governance committee. The purpose of such actions would be to ensure the board is functioning properly, and the board is meeting its obligations.

How to Determine the Needs of Your Nonprofit's Board

The discussion should be frank and vigorous; that is, if you are forming a board, or you are seeking to fill a vacancy, be both candid and realistic as to a candidate who would be a good fit and who would help fulfill the nonprofit’s mission.

For example, perhaps your nonprofit has issues concerning meeting fundraising expectations. If so, perhaps a board member with marketing experience, fundraising experience, or strong ties to the community would be a suitable candidate. As another example, a nonprofit stumbling to meet its strategic plan should consider candidates such as officers of corporations, managers, or business consultants.

Determining the needs of the board starts with asking the basic questions above; however, it would be sensible to craft a job description, even if it is only used for the purpose of debating and deciding on who would be best suited for the position. It could be a way for the board to hone in and agree on essential qualifications. If the qualifications for the position meet the same list of criteria necessary to meet the nonprofit’s mission, then everyone is aligned, and the search can proceed with a unified objective. For example, the required time commitments and duties associated with the board position should be expressed and thoroughly addressed with the candidate, so issues do not arise. A board member who cannot participate due to other obligations can have a detrimental impact on the nonprofit’s mission.

Look in the Right Places for Board Members

Here are some places to search for nonprofit board members (or other staff members or volunteers):

  • institutions of higher education: law schools, business schools, and medical schools
  • local businesses
  • networking/word of mouth (other board members, staff members, volunteers, your coworkers, or friends or family might have recommendations)
  • online: see, for example, Volunteermatch.org and LinkedIn
  • other nonprofits (but be cautious of conflicts of interest), and
  • professional organizations: bar associations, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, young professional societies.

Ask Potential Candidates Relevant Questions

What makes a board member valuable to a nonprofit? Most importantly, the person needs enough time and dedication to devote to the nonprofit’s mission. These topics should be the first series of questions addressed with any candidate. The next questions should focus on qualifications, education, experience, and so forth. Some sample questions include:

Time and Dedication

  • How much time would you be able to dedicate to our organization?
  • Would you be able to serve on a committee/subcommittee?
  • Would you be able to serve as a chair or co-chair on a committee/subcommittee?
  • If we had a special event, program, or meeting, would you be able to attend if it were held on a weekend or weeknight?

Experience

  • Do you have any experience serving on a board of directors or board of trustees?
  • What projects or activities have you undertaken with other nonprofits/civic organizations/corporations?
  • Tell us about your past projects or activities with other nonprofits/civic organizations/corporations?
  • Do you understand the fiduciary duties and responsibilities of serving on the board of a nonprofit?
  • Have you ever received any training, or taken any educational courses, on the fiduciary duties and responsibilities of serving on the board of a nonprofit?
  • What particular skills or experience do you have that would be valuable to our organization?

Education

  • What in your educational background would make you a good fit?
  • Have you had any training that would benefit our nonprofit?

Mission

  • How would you help our nonprofit meet its mission?

Plan a Proper Orientation for New Board Members

After the individual becomes a member of the board, the work is not yet complete. The new board member should become informed as to the nonprofit’s activities. Having a training program or orientation would be prudent.

The training/orientation could include providing documents, such as financial reports, business records, and strategic plans. It could also include meetings with board members, personnel, staff, the nonprofit’s counsel, or the nonprofit’s accountant, among others. It is imperative that board members, including any new board members, become and stay educated and informed.

Research Additional Information

To be a good steward for a nonprofit, any board member should continue to stay knowledgeable. To learn more, Nolo.com offers informative articles concerning nonprofits, and the attorney generals’ offices of most states provide a guide to nonprofit board service.

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