Question: How can I find and vet new board members for a nonprofit organization?

I am the new Executive Director of a small non-profit organization and following a difficult transition. I am down to 3 board members who appear to have lost their passion.

What is the best way for me to recruit new board members who add value over the long-term?

3 Expert Insights

I am answering this from my perspective as a long term non-profit board member in a number of organizations and currently President of a library board where finding new board members is continuously driven by a term limit in our by-laws.

First, what kind of board do you need? Active or passive. Most boards are passive. Active boards are actually participating in the work of the organization. What roles and activities do you need the board to carry out?

Second, what is your vision for the organization? You need to be able to  excite candidates with what the organization is doing now and will do in the future. If you are in the active board mode, what do you need board members to do? What kinds of participation will be helpful? In my current board we have people who put in a few hours a month and several who put in many hours every week. Its useful to potential board members to be able to see a path of involvement that will fit their circumstances.

Don't give up on your three members. Get them involved in creating a new vision (maybe you already have one and you need to communicate it to them in a way that engages them). Leverage their connections.

Make presentations before groups connected with your service audience, your constituencies. Look for people within your target service population who could be brought on board.

Don't rush. The next couple of people added to the board will have a big influence on who follows after them.

I would need to know much more about what kind of organization you are and how you fit into the community that you are serving to go any further.

In my experience there are people in many cities who are well positioned to help non-profits find Board members.  For example, in Los Angeles that person is Carl Terzian.  As part of his PR firm's services, he matches up firms and companies who want to find non-profits to support and non-profits that need board members.  For example, for most business service firms, like law firms and accountants, being on a non-profit board is part of their marketing.  So you might look for organizations who might have a tie-in to the purpose of your non-profit.

I agree that the selection is critical.  The role of the Board (whether strategic, tactical, volunteer activism, fund-raising, etc.) needs to be made clear, and the personalities need to mesh.  The Chair plays a critical role, because they can attract or repel good potential members.   One way to do this is to be clear about the future of your organization, what does it plan to accomplish.  Then you can ask what skill sets and resources you will need from Board members.  For example, I am a change agent.  I am attracted to non-profits that require an alteration in how they are operating.  I stay around until the alteration is self-generating and no longer vulnerable, and then I move on because a different type of Board member is then needed and I am needed elsewhere.

Congratulations! I was in a similar situation. We reached out to key people in the community representing different sectors, such as business, non-profit, law enforcement, politics, and formed a terrific advisory board who were very helpful in many areas, including recruiting new board members. You might also seek the assistance of foundations, and firms that specialize in matching board members to agencies, if you can afford the fee.

This is one of those times that adversity is a wonderful opportunity. You have the chance to form a Board that will best suit the needs of the organization.