How to Recruit Exceptional Board Members for Your Mission

Thanks goes to Jeb Banner, for today’s post. As the CEO and a Founder of Boardable – a board management software provider for mission-driven boards – Jeb is passionate about community nonprofits, entrepreneurship, and more. He also founded SmallBox, a creative agency for mission-driven organizations, and is co-founder of The Speak Easy and founder of Musical Family Tree, both 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Jeb also serves as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Your board members are the behind-the-scenes engine that powers your cause. This powerful team of individuals works together to guide your organization toward a sustainable future and make real progress toward your mission. They play a vital role in all aspects of your mission, from analyzing your fundraising success to overseeing key staff members, like the executive director.

With all that relies on your board, don’t settle for subpar or even just good board members! You need to go above and beyond to find those who are passionate about your cause, have the skills and connections to make a difference, and are willing to put in the work.

Between balancing administrative duties, developing programs, and making sure your current board stays on track, recruitment might not be your number one priority. However, it’s an important part of the board lifecycle and isn’t something that should be swept under the rug. It can seem like a lot of work, but it’s something that can launch your organization’s progress forward.

To help, we’ll explore several simple ways you can develop a well-rounded and passionate board, broken down into three stages:

  1. What to consider before kicking off your recruitment efforts
  2. Tips to keep in mind during the recruitment process
  3. Steps to take after recruiting new board members

At Boardable, we work with thousands of mission-driven organizations and empower their boards with the tools they need to streamline backend processes and focus on getting real work done. Due to our work in the social good sector, we understand that recruiting exceptional board members and transforming them into champions of your cause can be a challenge. 

With a bit of persistence and a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll connect with the right people in no time. Let’s get started.

What to consider before kicking off your recruitment efforts

Before you start locating and reaching out to potential recruits, there are a few considerations you should address. By answering the following questions first, you’ll be able to communicate expectations and locate the best candidates for the job the first time around.

What’s your ideal candidate persona?

First and foremost, you need to know what exactly you’re looking for in board members. That is, what are the current gaps at your organization, and what qualities and qualifications will best fill those gaps?

Here are a few core qualities your team should incorporate in your ideal candidate persona:

  • Knowledge about the organization. No one can make a difference without knowing about the cause they’re working toward. Look for candidates who have experience serving on a similar organization’s board or have worked with your organization before (like through volunteering).
  • A strong affinity for the cause. Any recruit you consider should have a connection to your mission, which is potentially the most important quality. Those who have demonstrated a passion for your cause will naturally do what they can to help your organization succeed.
  • Diverse backgrounds. Board diversity matters greatly because a mix of backgrounds brings unique perspectives to the table. This helps your team think outside the box and locate the best possible approaches to various situations. A diverse board composition varies in ethnicity, religion, gender, age, educational background, financial standing, and accessibility.

Overall, you want a group of individuals who embody your mission and are willing to put in the effort to learn about your organization. Having an idea of what characteristics your team needs makes it much easier to narrow down your options and select the right people out of your pool of candidates.

Are expectations for serving on the board realistic?

In a perfect world, your board members would have years of experience and be able to spend all of their time serving your organization. However, that’s pretty unrealistic. Board members have day jobs, families to take care of, and social lives to maintain. Their dynamic backgrounds are part of what makes them such assets to your organizations! 

With expectations that are too high, you might not receive any applicants. Work with current board officers to define the following aspects:

  • Desired skills and qualifications
  • Whether members are expected to donate, fundraise, or sit on a committee
  • An estimated time commitment (typically at least a regular board meeting)
  • Length of board term

Be sure to include this information in your formal job description to make sure expectations are clear to everyone from the get-go.

Recruiting passionate board members means you need to be as accessible as possible without compromising quality. If some of your top recruits are parents that also have to balance full-time jobs, a time commitment of 25 hours per month just isn’t possible and can deter some of your most promising prospects. Similarly, if board members are expected to make a sizeable donation during their term, that can easily steer away people with limited budgets and impact the diverse composition of your team.

Do you have a succession plan in place?

When board members’ terms are coming to an end and you’re about to welcome new recruits, it’s important to have a plan in place for transferring authority. A succession plan is a strategic document that outlines the process that boards should take when replacing board and committee members. Boardable’s board succession checklist explains that:

“A well-developed board succession plan enables the [organization’s] team to minimize negative impacts caused by departures, which helps maintain a consistent workflow during transitions.”

When recruiting and ultimately onboarding new board members, having a thorough succession plan in place will take away some of their stress as they get up to speed, helping them to quickly understand their new roles and fulfill expectations. It’s not enough to put one together at the last second, so make sure you’re working with the board to thoroughly outline your organization’s priorities, governance procedures, and assigned responsibilities to share with newcomers.

Tips to keep in mind during the recruitment process

When everything’s squared away, move forward with locating people to interview and potentially bring onto the team. You know what types of individuals you’re searching for, have set realistic expectations so as not to exclude promising candidates, and know how you’ll ensure they can successfully take on their new roles. Now, it’s a matter of finding those individuals and guiding them through the process.

The recruitment process is an extensive process, but connecting with the best candidates will be a breeze with the following best practices in the back of your mind.

Know where to look for candidates.

A major part of recruiting passionate board members is simply knowing where to look. With an abundance of sources at our disposal, finding exceptional candidates is easier than ever. We have all the traditional tools combined with many modern online resources to help find the right people who will complete worthwhile work.

Here are a few places you can search to keep the pipeline full of promising candidates:

  • Start with your existing supporters. People often join boards for organizations that they’re already familiar with and engaged in. That’s why your committed donors and volunteers are a great source of candidates. Volunteers work behind the scenes and understand the inner workings of your organization, while returning donors consistently give their hard-earned money to fund your cause. The passion is already there, and with plenty of training, they can transform into exceptional leaders for your cause. Check your donor and volunteer management systems to locate standout supporters.
  • Leverage your current board members’ networks. Your board members are a reliable source of recruits. They know what skills are necessary to succeed at your organization and have a strong understanding of what skills are currently missing on your board. Ask them who they think would be a good fit, and encourage them to reach out to any promising candidates. A personal connection can go a long way.
  • Check online resources. With the internet’s vast reach, you have access to a wider pool of candidates than ever before. Try publishing your open board positions on LinkedIn, similar to how businesses publish job postings. Some organizations prefer to locate brand new candidates through volunteer matching sites.

There are tons of promising candidates out there — you just have to know where to look! Some of them might be right under your nose, while you may need to go on a bit of a journey to find others. No matter how you locate candidates, just remember that they should be supportive of your work and be willing to put the work and time in to ensure your success.

Fully communicate associated responsibilities.

You don’t want to spend several weeks guiding board members through the application process, encouraging them to get to know your existing members, and then onboarding them for them just to find out that the position isn’t anything that they expected. That wastes their time and your team’s time! 

Make sure they know what they’re signing up for before they ever complete the application process. Openly communicate any expectations and duties they’ll be responsible for, a few of which include:

  • Advance the organization’s mission. This is the most basic board responsibility and will come naturally to your most passionate supporters. Set the expectation that the board should proactively promote your work and attempt to ignite that same passion in others outside of your organization.
  • Come prepared to board meetings. Your board meetings are where your passionate team comes together to discuss your organization’s strategies. It should be clear that board members should come prepared to these meetings by completing their assigned tasks from the previous meeting, reading through any shared documents, and coming up with any thoughts they’d like to offer.
  • Fundraise. While some board members may be hesitant to solicit donations from their personal networks, fundraising is what empowers you to continue fulfilling your mission. Participation from these individuals will play a major part in donor acquisition and retention. Set this expectation from the get-go, share other ways they can participate in fundraising (like by thanking donors, soliciting in-kind donations, and so on), and let them know that your team will provide the necessary support. 

Between open position listings and any conversations you have with recruits, make sure responsibilities are a key part of your message. That way, you can determine if a recruit will be a good fit early on, and no surprises will be thrown their way once they’re officially part of the team.

Encourage them to get to know more about the organization.

Understanding if a recruit will be a good fit may require more of an inside look into your organization. Give them the chance to learn more about your organization’s mission and the board’s work. A couple of ways to accomplish this include:

  • Invite them to a board meeting. This will give them an inside look into what they can expect while serving on your board. Notify your board members that a potential new member will be attending. Introduce your guest at the start of the meeting, and when everything wraps up, ask if they have any questions. This is also a great opportunity to assess their chemistry with current board members.
  • Give them a tour. Invite them to visit your facility. Either you or a current board member can show them around, introduce them to a few friendly faces, and answer their questions about the organization and serving on the board. If they’re not able to attend in person, go with a virtual tour instead. 

There’s a lot to learn about your organization and working with others to advance the mission. Taking this extra step lets them figure out whether they see themselves fitting in and being an asset to the team. Plus, it shows that you care about their experience and will give them the support needed to get up and running. 

Steps to take after recruiting new board members

Even after you’ve found passionate board members and inspired them to join your board, the work doesn’t stop there. To cultivate a truly exceptional group of leaders, you need to spend plenty of time training and sculpting them into true champions of your cause.

Offer exceptional onboarding experience

Welcoming new board members is crucial for setting expectations upfront and establishing an enthusiastic attitude for the road ahead. Note how this guide explains the importance of onboarding:

“New members need to be caught up on a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time so that they’re able to hit the ground running…Solidifying an onboarding process will ease the transition into their new roles and ultimately set your entire organization up for success.”

Before inducting your new board members, offer a formal onboarding experience where you:

  • Give them a welcome packet filled with background materials like a history one-pager, governing bylaws, contact information for active board members, and a recent financial audit to give them a sense of your financial stability.
  • Share a calendar with upcoming events, fundraisers, and other opportunities they’re expected to participate in.
  • Pair new board members with a returning member to show them the ropes, touch base between meetings, and answer any questions they have.
  • Add board members to your board management solution so that they have access to all board materials and have a way to communicate with one another.

There are several ways to welcome newcomers to the team. Engaging board members and fueling their passion starts from the moment they start serving, so don’t let the opportunity go to waste with a subpar onboarding experience.

Offer ongoing training opportunities

Just like employees at corporations, board members at mission-driven organizations will benefit greatly from ongoing training and continuing education opportunities. Regardless of their background experience, there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to joining a board of directors. Even if they’ve previously sat on a board for a similar organization, they’ve never served your organization. 

Ongoing training is a great opportunity to bridge any knowledge gaps and transform them into resilient leaders for your cause.

Beyond the initial onboarding experience, consider offering regular training at board meetings. For those who want to hone in on specific strategies, consider third-party resources. 

Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s nonprofit professional development guide explores several options, between online courses, books, and scholarly journals. You might even offer help from a third-party consultant. Offer high-quality training opportunities like the ones they suggest can help each board member hone their skills in the sector and grow their leadership abilities to new heights.

Whether they need help mastering governance best practices, improving their fundraising skills, or simply learning more about the sector, there’s training out there for everything, and in different formats to cater to different learning styles.

Effective recruitment is about more than just filling empty board seats. It’s about finding people with a strong passion for your cause and a strong commitment to act on that passion. Bear in mind that successful recruitment is an ongoing process, so make it a priority to continuously nurture and recruit passionate people to serve the board and pursue your cause.

After you’ve selected and onboarded new board members, there’s plenty more you can do to foster their passion and keep them engaged in their work. Stay committed to the process, and you’ll locate the right people to transform into true champions of your cause.

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