New year: Is it time for new board members?

January 26, 2015

New year: Is it time for new board members?

The role of a nonprofit board is arguably one of the most important aspects of an organization's leadership, aside from founding membership and the executive director. Knowing where and how to look for board members, as well as asking the right questions, will help nonprofits seek out and identify potential candidates.

Where to start the search?
In an article for Forbes, contributor Kerry Hannon made several suggestions related to finding the ideal board member. First, he stressed the effectiveness of word of mouth. Within the nonprofit community, there is often a lot of cooperation between organizations and associations that allows for networking.

For instance, annual conferences and other events within the nonprofit community are often places where individuals representing different nonprofits with similar guiding missions can be found speaking or simply attending. This scenario provides an opportunity to gauge the interest of experts in a specific industry into being the member of a nonprofit board. What's more, face-to-face encounters often allow for more candid responses, setting up the chance of getting an open and honest response to a preliminary appeal to join.

Another effective way to seek out potential board member recruits is through online sites like or These are essentially forums through which interested individuals and organizations can connect and get the ball rolling. Nonprofits can categorize themselves as arts, environmental organizations or other genres, and prospective board members can search using this kind of criteria to identify groups that will likely be the best fit.

These two approaches can be categorized as active and passive. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, online sites give board members and nonprofits the opportunity to be a bit more deliberate in finding just the right fit. However, it's harder to tell if the candidate is truly enthusiastic or is a good fit. The follow up to any search must be an interview that incorporates the right questions.

Ask about what matters
Managing and planning consultant to nonprofit cultural organizations, Anne Ackerson explained on her website, Leading by Design, that board members should ask themselves several questions before considering joining an organization's board, however these question are equally appropriate for nonprofit leaders to consider when weighing the pros and cons of a candidate.

For instance, one line of inquiry should explore how the person's skills would best benefit the board. This is one of the most important questions because it will ultimately guide the discussion of a nominee's relevance. Additionally, Hannon wrote in Forbes that the nonprofit has to highlight specific areas it needs assistance with, such as fundraising or public relations.

Another question to think about is the potential board member's partnership with the executive director. During meetings and planning for events, the ED will likely depend on whatever insight board members bring to the table. Depending on the nonprofit's culture, he or she may be asked to go beyond overseeing decisions and take a more active role in strategy for fundraising and other activities.

With the new year, it is likely nonprofits will begin their search for board members, and it's critical the process is planned well ahead of time.

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