A characteristic of a strong not-for-profit organization is an active board of directors that can support the organization in many ways—financially, with their time, and with the skills the members possess, both personally and professionally. Attracting the right people to your not-for-profit board can be challenging. You obviously want people who are enthusiastic about your mission and who are willing to give their time. Time is often a scarce commodity for people, so you need to exercise caution to not overwhelm your board members or other volunteers.
The Reality of Turnover
While organizations should take full advantage of the resources their board provides, they must also recognize that those resources will not always be available. Turnover on the board can be a challenge, which makes it tempting to accept almost anyone who expresses interest in becoming a board member. However, not everyone is qualified or has the right skill set to help you build a strong board that will be an asset to your organization. One solution is to re-evaluate your term limits. If you have a board member that is coming to the end of their term and would like to stay on consider having board members vote to extend term limit by two years.
The best way to prepare for board turnover is to be proactive. Assume your organization wants to have an attorney as part of its membership, and you know that the attorney currently on the board will be rotating off next year. You might want to start recruiting an attorney to join the board now. That way, the incumbent attorney can spend some time introducing the new person to the types of legal issues that have been encountered during their service and make the transition smoother. The succession issue also applies to the officer positions. These positions often rotate, with people gradually moving up to assume an officer position over time. For example, the board president may only have that position for one or two years. Part of the responsibility of the officers is to consider the skills of their fellow board members and help select, and then mentor and train, someone to succeed them in their role.
Scouting New Talent
Having a junior board in place also helps with the pipeline of talent for your main board. Your junior board could be individuals already invested in your organization. Volunteers or annual donors are great candidates. By enlisting them for your junior board they gain a better understanding of what is involved with becoming a main board member if they choose to join down the line.
Recruiting for your board can be difficult. However, it is also one of the most important functions of your organization. Board members should be added strategically to make sure the board is well rounded and diverse enough that it can reach the best possible decisions in guiding the organization. Board members, in turn, have to be mindful of their responsibilities. They have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization they serve. This means that a board member must be willing to spend the time necessary to understand the issues they are voting on, willing to question management and make decisions in the same way they would if they were making decisions impacting their own life.
Use Your Resources
There are many tools at your disposal to grow your board; you just have to use them. Your website and social media can be a great asset when reaching out to potential board members. This is especially relevant for the younger generation who are often eager to get involved.
Board members typically think of their professional relationship as people who might be interested in joining a board; however, don’t forget about your personal relationships. If you are about to step down as a board member, reach out to your friends and family; they might have an interest in joining. They might not have your same skillset but still have something valuable to offer.
An Orderly Succession
Remember—it is important to be respectful of board members’ time and use their time to the fullest. Allocating some of that time to planning for an orderly succession when your current board members are no longer serving can be key to keeping your organization strong over the long haul.