This is BY FAR the most frequently asked question that I get. As if I have some secret lair where all the good governance volunteers hide. That question is followed closely by “How do I get my board members engaged?” and “What do I do with these people?” All of these questions are related.
The fact is that someone who could be an amazing board member for one agency could be dismal for another organization. The needs of every single agency and every single Board of Directors is different. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to finding board members.
Some of the factors to consider when you think about the kind of volunteers you need for your board include:
- Organizational duration
- Organizational size
- Future vision and plans
- Specialized expertise required
- Mission, cause and values
There are probably more, but let’s start by looking at these factors.
A young organization is going to have different needs than one that is established and has longevity. Newer organizations are often still figuring things out. They are in “build-mode,” where they might be working on crafting their mission, vision and values. If they have that stuff figured out, they might have moved on to developing policies and procedures or establishing fundraising strategies.
A newer agency will need volunteers who are comfortable with ambiguity and working on figuring things out. Someone who likes to have all their ducks in a row would not necessarily be a good fit for a young nonprofit. On the other hand, that person may thrive with a more established organization looking for stability and unfaltering leadership.
Smaller nonprofits tend to be local – addressing issues in their community. These agencies are probably looking to attract volunteers in that community, who have the expertise of understanding the environment, and passion for fixing critical social issues.
92% of nonprofits have budgets under $1 million a year and 88% are under $500,000. The level of financial expertise and strategizing required to lead one of these organizations is not going to be as significant as what is required to lead a $20M agency. Thus making smaller nonprofits great places for “beginner board members” to learn the ropes of serving as a governance volunteer.
Larger agencies are likely going to need volunteers who know the ropes when it comes to serving on a board. They may require specialized expertise, significant relationships, regional representation, and more. If an organization serves the entire country, they may be looking for volunteers from all over to represent different parts of their constituency.
Future Vision & Plans
Agencies focused on remaining small and local will have different needs than those looking to go nationwide or worldwide. Similarly, those that want to stay narrowly focused on one strategy will differ from those looking to attack an issue on several fronts.
Any organization looking to make big changes will need to consider the kind of expertise and leadership that they will need. If building a facility is in the plan, realtors, architects, contractors and developers may be good prospects. Significant expansion could cause an agency to look for volunteers who have grown other businesses. And when a nonprofit is committed to going deep in one area, they might want to find someone who is a subject matter expert in that specific solution.
As stated before, the vast majority of nonprofits are small businesses addressing local social issues. In many of these cases, all that is needed is a passion for making the community a better place. However, some agencies have the need for specialized knowledge, expertise, or skills. For example, an agency addressing a local environmental issue will likely need some level of expertise helping to guide their work.
Based on the work and goals of the nonprofit, they may decide that they need a financial expert to help make strategic decisions about their finances. Or a legal expert might be beneficial to their work.
Having specialized needs does not automatically mean that the organization must recruit a volunteer with those skills to their board. Needs can be addressed by utilizing non-governance volunteers, contractors, or staff. The agency needs to decide what is the best way to acquire the specialized expertise required for responsible decision making.
Mission, Cause & Values
I often tell nonprofit leaders that the most important quality in a board member is that they care about being part of the solution you provide. Everyone is busy, and if a volunteer doesn’t care, it’s easy for other things to get in the way of board meetings, events and service.
Not only do they need to care about the issue you are addressing, but they need to align with your values and methodology. For example, if an agency is committed to getting rid of puppy mills, they likely attract a lot of dog lovers. However, if they do it through euthanizing, that is going to narrow the pool of potential volunteers who align with their strategies.
Again, there are probably additional factors to consider that are unique to your organization. If you don’t know what you need, it’s going to be hard to find it. In marketing they call this finding your niche. It seems counter intuitive, but the more you narrow your focus on what you are looking for, the more likely you are to find it.
When you put out a call for governance volunteers, and you say “we’re looking for anyone wanting to serve our organization” – you likely hear crickets. The more specific you can get, the better your chances of someone seeing themselves in the description of what you need. Or, they may think of another prospective volunteer based on your description.
Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss your organization’s wants and needs for your Board of Directors.
Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.