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Navigating Board Member Recruitment: A Complete Guide

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks June 6, 2023
Table of Contents
7 min read

Board members are the MVPs of the association and non-profit world. They’re not just legally required – they’re also critical to ensuring an organization’s long-term success and helping guide the organization in its growth. Board members bring their expertise in a variety of areas to help an organization make strategic decisions about everything from their budget to their event strategy.

Because of this, it’s essential to dedicate time, thought and effort to finding the right individuals to serve on your organization’s board. The wrong board members could mean the organization doesn’t have the right expertise to tackle certain challenges or could even leave an organization deadlocked and unable to make key decisions. So, how do you recruit the right board members? We’ll walk you through the best practices in board member recruitment.

What are the Characteristics of an Ideal Board Member?

Non-profits and associations often think it’s critical to have a lawyer and an accountant on their board to advise on financial and legal matters. Or they might focus on recruiting people who have connections that will help them with fundraising or sponsorships. But boards are best composed of diverse members who bring a variety of skills and expertise to their roles.

After all, no one type of professional has the skill set and expertise to help guide an organization through the broad scope of responsibilities that board members do. From fundraising to program development to long-term strategic planning, an organization invests best in its future by recruiting a variety of professionals who are needed to help it accomplish its mission and goals.

Here are some key characteristics:

  • Dedicated to your mission: According to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent Report, 98% of chief executives and board chairs consider a candidate’s passion for the organization’s mission to be a high or medium priority when recruiting board members. They’re not wrong to do so. Who is going to be a better advocate for your organization? Someone who joins your board because they were asked – or someone who has devoted a big part of their life to fighting for your cause?
  • Capable of devoting time to board responsibilities: We all often want to help out but many of us don’t have the capacity to. Whether because of family or work obligations, there are some potential board members who might love to join your board – but they won’t be able to devote the time you need them to. Absent board members can lead to meetings without quorum, inactive committees and other board members being overworked. Be upfront about the time commitment. 
  • Forward-thinking and open to change: Most organizations face challenges staying relevant and leveraging new technologies or trends. Boards need innovators and people comfortable leading change.Knowledgeable and experienced: You don’t just want someone with the time and passion to join your board. You want people who have something to contribute to the future of your organization based on their expertise and experience to supplement your internal expertise and guide your organization. Enthusiastic folks who have time to help but no expertise are best recruited as volunteers or committee members.
  • Able to communicate effectively: Board meetings involve learning and engaging with a lot of complex issues and questions. It requires board members to be effective at understanding other people speaking and effectively communicating their thoughts. Anyone who is too timid to speak up or who communicates arrogantly will make board governance more complicated.

Building a Dream Team of Board Members

If you’ve found a number of board member candidates who fit the criteria above – before you invite them to join make sure to read this section! While an individual board candidate might be perfect, you need to think about the bigger picture. A key part of recruiting board members is keeping your eye on how they contribute to building the board as a whole.

A strong board depends on finding the right balance between the strengths, perspectives and connections of all board members combined. You wouldn’t build a hockey team will all defensive players, so you also shouldn’t build a board of all lawyers. The best governance comes from a team that complements each other.

Here are some qualities of an ideal board:

  • Diverse: According to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent DEI Report, only 38% of chief executives believed that their board represented the communities their organizations served. An additional 66% said they were dissatisfied with the racial diversity of their boards. Diverse boards bring diverse perspectives to issues and that helps ensure their decisions better serve your organization and community.
  • Professional: Boards that manage themselves professionally and work together respectfully are the most effective at creating effective strategies for an organization’s success.
  • Collaborative: Collaboration is the name of the game with boards. Trying to make decisions with anywhere from five to seventeen board members with diverse opinions is hard. A truly great board is one that works together to understand problems and come up with solutions.
  • Committed: Every association and non-profit dreams of a board that runs itself. They independently bring in lists of prospects to ask for donations. They proactively recruit and train board members. They go above and beyond to support the success or the organization. A great board is made up of a bunch of people who genuinely want to see your organization succeed.

5 Steps for Successful Board Member Recruitment

Ready to start board member recruitment? Here are the 5 key steps to ensure you do so effectively:

1. Identify your organization’s needs.

On average, there are usually 15 to 16 members on a nonprofit board. However, many organizations have much smaller boards because they’re easier to facilitate. Recruiting board members must be approached strategically based on your organization’s needs. Depending on the current individuals serving on your organization’s board, there may be areas where you’re missing expertise, a fresh perspective or connections within the community.

A few ways to determine what your organization should look for during board member recruitment include:

  • Sending out a survey among current board members and executives
  • Pinpointing relevant skills or experience that could further advance your mission
  • Creating a board matrix

2. Describe the board role clearly.

You don’t want to recruit board members who bite off more than they can handle because your board role post wasn’t clear. Boost your organization’s chances of finding the right board candidates by defining the role and expectations clearly in your posting.

Some key details to include are:

  • Title
    • General duties
    • Relevant benefits
    • Required qualifications and skills
    • Time commitment
    • Financial commitments (if required)

3. Spread the word about your board opening.

You can’t recruit board members if no one hears you’re looking. Ensure that as many potentially qualified candidates hear about this opportunity as possible by sharing the opening across multiple channels, such as:

  • Social media
    • Email newsletter
    • Your organization’s website
    • Board member recruitment sites

Remember to also take advantage of your current board members’ connections and ask them to nominate any potential candidates. You should also consider personally reaching out to supporters who’ve already demonstrated dedication to your mission, such as volunteers and donors.

4. Consider and select candidates carefully.

Once you have your board member candidates, narrow down the list based on how well each individual fits with your organization’s overall mission, goals, values and needs. Then, take the time to meet with each candidate to determine their level of interest and their ability to fulfill the time requirement of serving as a board member.

To effectively recruit the right board members, it’s crucial to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Double-check their time availability, dedication to your purpose and experience. Make your selection based on the various skills and attributes you laid out in the very first step.

5. Provide a formal orientation.

Help newly recruited board members hit the ground running by providing them with a formal orientation. Depending on your priorities and resources, this can take place over one or multiple sessions.

Here are some key things to help with onboarding a new board member:

  • Give new board members a handbook that details important information such as the organization’s mission
    • Introduce current board members and key staff members
    • Provide board members with contact information if they have any additional questions
    • Pair new board members with a mentor to guide them to maximize their potential on the board
    • Have the board chair call on them during their first meetings for their opinion if they’re hesitant to speak up
    • Give them a chance to attend different board committee meetings before they decide which to join

Ensuring Your Board’s Success

Recruiting the right board members is critical. After all, board members determine the direction of an organization and help it achieve its goals. Approaching board member recruitment with care and consideration ensures your organization’s success in the long run.

After new board members are onboarded, your organization can continue supporting board members by making educational resources available and regularly asking for feedback. The goal is to optimize the board member recruitment, onboarding and governance processes through feedback. Focusing on continuous improvement will help your organization attract better board candidates over time – or retain the board members you have.

Additional resources on board recruitment and management:

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.