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