Engaging Prospective Board Members

In this article I talked about where to find prospective board members. (Incidentally, the sources for finding board members are also a great place to look for good donors.) Then, in this one I talked about the importance of clarifying your board expectations. Afterall, you wouldn’t take a paid job without knowing what the company was expecting from you. Similarly, no one wants to get into a volunteer position and be caught off guard by what is expected of them.

Today’s article is going to look at those crucial next steps. Once you know what you expect from your board members, and you have some ideas about where to look for and recruit them – you need to be ready with a plan for what to do with them once you start attracting them. 

I have observed leaders who meet someone – who has a little bit of interest in their organization – and they ask them to join their board right away. Finding, recruiting, and keeping good board members is hard work. It’s understandable that leaders may want to try and capture those interested as quickly as possible. However, slowing this process down is a much better approach. Let’s explore why. 

Recruiting Your Boss

Often, especially in younger nonprofits, the Executive Director does a lot of the work of recruiting the board. It often becomes just one more of the millions of things that she or he needs to work on. The very top reason to slow down the board recruitment process is because, as the ED, you are essentially recruiting one of your bosses. It’s safe to say that you probably want to make sure that you bring on someone who you trust, who you know will make decisions with the best interest of the organization in mind, and who is volunteering for your organization for the right reasons. 

Relationships Drive the Work

The work of a nonprofit organization is highly relational. Successful organizations engage more and more people in the important work of making the world a better place. Strong and healthy boards help to share the story of the organization, connect to partners, recruit more people to engage, and ensure impact and sustainability. Discovering how a prospective board member might contribute in an effective way takes time. It requires multiple interactions to develop a relationship and understand how their involvement can be mutually beneficial. 

Good Decisions Take Time

Just like you want to make a good decision for your agency, you also want to be sure that the prospect makes a good decision for themselves. They need to make a connection to your cause; determine if they have the time, energy and capacity to serve; and decide if your board is a good fit for them. It can be very disruptive to bring on a new board member, have them stay only a few months, and then lose them. 

For these reasons and many more, I recommend that organizations put a recruitment process in place. Having a process doesn’t mean that you cannot deviate from it, it just means that you have a plan for how to develop a relationship with a potential board member. 

Every organization needs to determine how their process looks. Many factors will determine what is right for each agency. An organization’s size, maturity, current programming, current board health, needs, and challenges are just a few of the things to consider. 

When working with agencies I recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 interactions prior to inviting someone to serve on the board. In the generic example below I’ve outlined some basic elements to include.

Board Recruitment Process

  • You get a Lead. This can come from networking, through your programming, a name presented by a volunteer, etc. 
  • Qualify that the Lead seems like a good prospect. Start (or continue) the relationship-building process. Take them out for coffee or lunch. Begin to share the idea of them serving on your board. 
  • If appropriate, invite them to observe a program or operations. Help them get a feel for the work that you do. During the observations make sure that someone hosts them. You want to clearly explain the methodology of your work, what sets your agency apart, and the intentional things you are doing to make a difference. 
    • Agencies that serve highly vulnerable populations may have to find different ways of educating a prospect about their work. 
  • Again – when appropriate, have them visit and observe a board or committee meeting. This is a good way for them to get a feel for the culture and how they might fit into it. 
  • Follow-up with the prospect to answer any questions, review expectations in detail, and explore how they are feeling about the possibility of getting involved. 
  • If they are interested, present to the board for a vote.
  • Officially invite them to join – OR – thank them for going through the process. 
    • A future article will talk about what to do with them once you invite them to join and they say: “Yes!” 
    • If you need to turn them away, share honest feedback. If the door is open to future involvement, let them know. If they are not a match, be clear about that too. 

As you consider who to bring into your organization, there is a lot to think about. Are they a good fit? Do they have skills that your agency needs? Can they help with connections, open doors, or raise money? These are all important questions you need to ask. I believe the most important thing to look for is passion. Do they care about the issue your agency is addressing and your strategies for solving it? If not, they may not bring their best self to the table and they may not contribute consistently. 

When you have a great first “date,” do the next logical step and ask them to get together again. Bringing someone on your board is not as significant as getting married. So after a few good “dates” it may make sense to start talking about taking the relationship to the next level; ie: getting them involved as a volunteer. Just as you should hire slowly and choose a life partner slowly – take your time bringing on new board members. 

If your organization needs help creating a recruitment process that is right for you, I would love to help! Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com to learn more. Let’s connect!

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