November 26, 2022

What’s The Most Important Board Member Characteristic to Seek?

Group of people having a discussion at a table.You’re recruiting board members. Which of the following represents the principal characteristic to pursue?

🔲 1. High-net-worth candidates who can make a large donation

🔲 2. Individuals who know lots of people and who will make lots of introductions

🔲 3. People who work well with others

🔲 4. Individuals who fill missing spots on your diversity matrix

🔲 5. Something else.

The Answer

The answer is 5. Something else. While recruiting board members with means, great connections, and people skills are desirable, you need members who can think strategically. Strategic thinkers are natural at governance work.

Why are people who think strategically so valuable on boards? They help you grapple with critical questions, make thoughtful policies, and uncover options for moving forward. People who think strategically can shift their perspective from imagining putting their hand in the Colorado River to standing up on the Grand Canyon’s rim and all the ledges in between during a conversation. This perspective-shifting ability allows them to see options’ benefits, challenges, and consequences before making expensive investments. It is the heart of board governance and leadership work.

Evidence of That You’ve Found Gold When Recruiting Board Members 

What behaviors indicate that an individual thinks strategically? They-

  • 🏰 Offers a historical viewpoint. For example, when someone mentions a hot political issue, the nominee notes how the country dealt with a similar challenge.
  • 🧶 Ask questions that uncover tactics behind results. For instance, your gala committee’s abuzz with the headline news that the symphony raised $250,000. Instead of being dazzled by the revenue, the candidate’s curious. How did the symphony do it? How many years have they held a gala? And how much did they raise two years ago?
  • 🔐 Outlines themes or through-lines from discussions. The prospect comments, “We seem to come back to three issues: money, staff, and the need for a new roof.”
  • ❓Asks perplexing questions that, upon reflection, seem obvious. “Long-term, what will be the impact on our brand from accepting an alcoholic beverage sponsorship?”
  • 👟 Imagines themselves in others’ shoes. After a hurricane elsewhere, your prospective member asks, “What would happen if a similar storm struck our area?”

Perfect board candidates think strategically, have means, add diversity, have great contacts, and have outstanding team skills. However, if your candidates only have some of these characteristics, prioritize people who think the big picture and long-term. In other words, they readily can understand and take on the governance role. Plus, these individuals will help you find new ways to find people who reflect the community you serve with means, great connections, and people skills.

Read: Why Do People Join Nonprofit Boards?

Watch: How to Cure Common Nonprofit  Board Recruitment Headaches

Watch: Executive Directors, Do You Know This Secret to Nonprofit Board Success?

For more answers, check out Karen’s Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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If you’d like to know more about board recruitment or dynamic nonprofit boards, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to help you recruit and create a nonprofit board that launches your nonprofit onward and upward.

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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