March 11, 2023

Stop Board Headaches! How to Recruit the Right People

What has been your biggest challenge?” I asked a retiring CEO.

“The Board,” he said without hesitation. “Isn’t that true for everyone?”

Board nightmares are all too common in nonprofits. To reduce and avoid them, take preventative steps.

How can you prevent board challenges?

Begin with how you recruit your members:

1. Take the long view.

Instead of just dealing with your current challenges, take a longer view. Invest time in creating a board of people with the skills and talent you need to get to your next big goal. To keep up with them, include actions to grow your skills.  You want to be confident enough to work with people who challenge you to be your best.

2. Write it down.

Draft a criteria list of your ideal board members. What skills are needed? What group behaviors help the most? How will you measure such behaviors? Identify any musts—that is, you would not ask a person to join your board if they lack this characteristic. Along with the must, identify the criteria you prefer but remain optional. Candidates may or may not meet these optional criteria. This is your “shopping list.” Use it to describe who you seek as you network.

3. Create a waiting list.

Identify names to fill a board member pipeline using your must criteria and as many wants as possible. Ideally, seek to find at least two people to be “in the wings” to fill each seat and take a bow if your waitlist is very short, but you do have a waitlist!

4. Vet your prospects.

Investigate these potential board members. Meet people. Spend individual time with them. Where possible, look for opportunities to see prospects interacting in group settings. What behaviors do they exhibit? How do they behave in groups? What will it be like, for you to work with them? It’s frustrating to meet someone and spend the time only to find out it won’t work, but you prevent problems by finding this out in advance.

5. Be clear.

Congratulations. You identified great candidates, and they’ve said yes to serving. After all this success, don’t be too busy to be clear about your board’s roles and responsibilities. Provide a written job description, hold an orientation session where expectations are clarified, and plan your onboarding process with your chair.

Act on these recommendations so that your biggest challenge is not your board.

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Need more help with your board? Karen is available for a mini-consult, Board Rx, and more. Click here to email or here to chat.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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