One of the things that always comes up when I work with nonprofit boards is how to recruit new board members.  Here are 5 questions to ask when recruiting nonprofit board members. To put it simply, it’s all about setting expectations. What’s really important as a board is to think about what skills and community connections your nonprofit needs that a new board member could bring. I’ve also included a link below to a downloadable spreadsheet to help you manage your new board member nomination and prioritization process.

  1. Are you more of a governing or working board? For many boards who are volunteer-driven and considered a “working” board, they are carrying much of the weight that a staff member may otherwise carry. Some boards are just more time intensive and require a greater ongoing time commitment from their board members, and you need to be honest about whether you are a governing or working board. New board members need to know up front what is expected of them from them, especially in terms of their time commitment which falls on top of their other work and personal commitments. They need to know in advance how much time to carve out to attend meetings, get committee work done or attend an important fundraiser. As boards and organizations mature, they often transition from a working board to a governing board, which is a good thing. Nonprofits at various stages of growth may fall in either camp (governing vs working), but it’s important to be honest and transparent about the level of time and energy you really need from a new board member.

  2. What mix of skills, experience and connections does your board need now and in the years ahead to complement the skills you already have on your board?  Perhaps you need someone with a legal, finance, human resource or fundraising background.  When bringing on new board members, it’s good for boards to do some self-reflection to fill in gaps, particularly with regards to upcoming term limits where you may be losing valuable skills as current board members conclude their service.  Since most nonprofits operate on very lean budgets, it’s really beneficial to have certain skills represented on your board to bring much-needed expertise and experience.

  3. What are the annual fundraising requirements for board members? Some boards have explicit policies about annual expectations for 100% board participation in personal giving (or “getting” which could mean helping to secure resources from other sources). I am a huge proponent that 100% of the board needs to be giving annually even if not everyone can write a large check.  Participation from board members signals to other key stakeholders (other donors, foundations, corporate sponsors, community members) that the leadership is invested.  It’s much harder to change expectations about fundraising over time than it is to set clear expectations from the start of a board member’s tenure. This is a conversation some board members are uncomfortable having, but the implications of not having 100% board giving are much more widespread than the conversation itself.

  4. Is the potential new board member an “and, and, and” candidate?  It can be tough to prioritize a list of nominated candidates that fellow board members have brought to the table. While some people may bring a certain needed skill set, the strongest candidates bring a skill set AND connections AND time to volunteer AND, etc. These “and, and, and” candidates are multifaceted. They can also be hard to get to join your board because other organizations recognize their skills and experience too.  Having all nominations in the same format can help. Download my matrix for recruiting nonprofit board members here: Adaptive Alternatives Sample Board Recruitment Matrix. I have used this tool with several boards, and it seems to help make the nomination and prioritization process go smoothly. (I’d love your feedback at if you end up using it!)

  5. What do you want this person to do specifically once they join the board? The more you can set expectations upfront about what it looks like to be a strong board member for your organization, the more you will be able to tap into the strengths and experiences that a new board member has the potential to bring. During recruitment, it may seem that you can’t ask a new board member for too much because you don’t want to scare them away. On the contrary, consider being really direct with a new member like this: “We’d like for you to take on a 3 year term. In the first year you will get up to speed by participating in board meetings and helping with our 2 main events per year. You’ll also work alongside our current finance committee chair, so that by year 2, you can chair the finance committee. In year 3, you’ll work with your successor to pass the torch.” Again, setting these kinds of expectations upfront will set your new board member up for success from the beginning.

Once you have brought a new member to your board, having an orientation or onboarding process is also a best practice. For a nice resource from Board Source on board member onboarding click here.

I hope these 5 questions and the downloadable nominations tool are helpful to you and your fellow board members!

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Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


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