Finding and Keeping Board Members Who Serve, Not Sit

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

The aim of nonprofit board recruitment is not simply to fill seats but to fill gaps in your organization’s need by putting the right people on the board—people who will be active and impactful, “serving” versus “sitting” on your board.

To that end, here’s a list of our board recruiting best practices.

  • Be open about what is expected financially. Be clear with board candidates about what is expected from them, which means everything they must give and raise from others. State clearly what you expect them to contribute financially and why. If you’re not clear, you may lose your candidate to another board that is.
  • Put your board members on your website. Show your board members to the candidates and friends of your organizations. These are the great people who make your work possible. It sends a message about how much you value them, organizational transparency and is an excellent marketing opportunity.
  • Make it easy for your members to get to meetings. Set a consistent place and time for your board to meet that is convenient for them. Avoid lunch hours and afternoons, but make sure you meet at least four times a year.
  • Answer the phone as quickly as if a major donor called. Be very responsive when you are negotiating with potential board members. Donors may give nonprofits money, but the board gives you their finances, time, expertise and connections. If they join the board, your prompt response and attention signals their value to your organization.
  • Explain that they are not an ATM. Potential board members want to share their ideas, not just their money. Make it clear that there are many ways to engage besides fundraising: exciting projects you’ve worked on recently, stretch goals you’re planning, challenges your organization knows it must navigate. Stress how valuable your board’s contributions have been, the impact their work had and how much you and your organization appreciate it.

Board Member Retention

Once you have exemplary board members, notwithstanding term limits, here’s how you can lower board turnover and retain your most effective members:

  • Start by evaluating every meeting. You can either discuss them in executive sessions or conduct a survey. Ask board members at each meeting questions such as how the meeting could have gone better? What could fellow board members have done better? Then, begin addressing these dissatisfactions.
  • Every year, evaluate the board members’ satisfaction level and determination to continue, similar to “stay surveys” for employees.
  • Make sure that you have the essential tools for effective governance – board policy, strategy, and key metrics. If you don’t have them now, present your plan to the board.
  • Lastly, make sure your chair is responsible for all of the above. This is not a job for the chief executive.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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