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Where to Look for Prospective Board Members
erma bombeck

This recent article talked about the purpose of the Board of Directors in a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit Boards are made up of caring citizens who give of their time, talent and treasure to help make our community a better place. These people sound awesome, right? The challenge lies with where to find them. Any organization that hopes to survive and thrive long term, must find individuals willing to serve, bring them together, and form them into an effective governing body. 

Agencies often want to know where they can find these unicorn-like volunteers. While it’s true that it can be challenging to find these people, it’s not impossible. Twenty-five percent of American adults volunteer their time. And I would argue that we can grow that number simply by asking people and connecting them with meaningful opportunities. 

This article will explore three sources for finding volunteers. Before you start recruiting, there are a few things you will want to have in place: 

  • First, you need to be clear on the expectations you will have of your Board members. It’s hard for volunteers to say yes if they don’t know what will be expected of them. 
  • Second, establish a process for recruiting. Bringing on a new Board member should be similar to dating. You would not ask someone to marry you on the first date. Similarly, you don’t want to invite someone to be on your governance Board if you don’t really know them, and they don’t fully understand you and your organization. 
  • Lastly, be prepared to put your volunteers to work. So many agencies have Board members who come to meetings and listen to everything going on in the operations of the organization. This is not a valuable use of their time! It quickly leads to either disengagement or volunteers taking on work that is outside the scope of what the Board should be focusing on. 

Even though you may have work to do in creating your agency expectations, recruiting process, and board focus; now is a great time to start exploring sources for volunteers. Since recruiting should be a process, not an event – you have time to work on those pieces while you identify and build relationships with prospective Board members. 

Board prospects fall into three tiers: 

    1. People who KNOW, LOVE, and TRUST you
    2. Those who care about strengthening the community
    3. Lucky connections

TIER 1: People who KNOW, LOVE, and TRUST you

In order to register for nonprofit status, an agency must list three Board members on the paperwork. The majority of Founders know very little about what it means to have a Board. Because of this, they usually ask three friends or family members to allow them to list their names on the document. Having not been given expectations, properly recruited, or assigned meaningful work this group usually ends up being ineffective. This whole experience leads Founders to be leery of this first category of prospects. 

Despite the tendency to be cautious of Tier 1 prospects, this is the very best place to look for Board volunteers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your mom will make a great Board member. What it does mean is that people who understand your work, who care about your cause because they care about you, and who benefit from or partner to deliver your services – are great prospects.

Friends and family may be good prospects if they are passionate about the mission; not just because they are friends and family. Constituents can be great Board prospects because they know first hand the value of your programs. Partnering or referral agencies may have staff who want to more deeply engage in helping with the critical social issue your agency is addressing. 

Below is a list of places to look for Tier 1 prospects. Consider each group and see if you can think of one or two people in each category who you think might be interested in learning more about your agency. 

      • Friends and family 
      • Social groups
      • Church groups
      • Colleagues
      • Former clients
      • Friends or family of clients
      • Organizations who you partner with or who refer to your agency
      • Businesses the agency patronizes

Tier 2: Those who care about strengthening the community

Tier 2 prospects are those who know little to nothing about your organization. However, they are people who are engaged in their community and who actively seek opportunities to get involved and give back. These individuals are the ones who – once inspired – take action to address the issues in their community. 

You can find Tier 2 folks pretty easily. These are the people who are already involved and working to make the community a better place to live, work and play. Every community has multiple places where Tier 2 people hang out. Some of those include: 

      • Service Clubs – ie: Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions Clubs, Jaycees, etc. 
      • Women’s Clubs – cities and towns of any size have some sort of group like this
      • Networking Groups – some are more philanthropic minded than others
      • Young Professionals Groups – our younger generations are very interested in giving back; in addition they often see volunteering as a way to make a name for themselves
      • Community Foundations – the staff at these organization tend to know who is interested in connecting with certain causes
      • Professional Associations – look to the major industries in your community, their professionals will often come together and be looking to get involved
      • Businesses that have a vested interest in your mission and your success
      • Other Nonprofit Volunteers – this isn’t about stealing volunteers, it’s about helping people deepen their impact in their community 

The people you will find through these avenues are excellent prospects for several reasons. They clearly like to be involved. They are often at a point in their career where they have a little more flexibility and freedom to give their time in the community. And these prospects tend to have more discretionary income and influential connections; both valuable assets to bring onto your Board. 

Scheduling a meeting with your Chamber Director or your Nonprofit Business Librarian can help you determine which groups exist in your community and which would be the best ones to start with. Google can also help you see what’s available in your area. Once you have some sources, reach out to them. Get yourself invited. See if you can speak to their group. Work on nurturing these groups into friends of your organization. The people who show the most interest in your work should be added to your Board prospect list. 

Tier 3: Lucky connections

The third tier of prospects come from broadcasting your needs and seeing who responds. Very good Board members can come out of this category, but it’s more a matter of luck than of strategy. Here are some options for attracting Tier 3 prospects:

      • Online matching sites – Board Source,, BoardnetUSA, Bridgespan,, Volunteer Match, Tap Root, LinkedIn Board Connect
      • Flyers – coffee shops, grocery stores, in-house, library, local gathering spots, businesses that promote employee volunteerism 
      • Social Media – agency’s pages, groups, ads 

Tier 3 is the easiest way to try and attract Board prospects, but also the least effective. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore these options. It simply means that this is where you should spend the least amount of time and resources. 

Recruiting Board members starts with relationship building. It involves doing the hard work of getting out, sharing your passion, and connecting people to your cause. Ensuring that the organization survives and thrives long after the founder has retired requires a strong Board of Directors built on healthy relationships. Use these sources to start building your list of Board prospects. 

If your agency needs help identifying, recruiting and empowering effective Board members, I would love to help! Email me at to learn more. Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.

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