Category Archives: Leadership Development

Nonprofit Board Leaders and CEOs: Find excellent board members with these simple tips

By Molly Hansen, Vice President, The Alford Group   Read Molly’s Bio

How to find great, or even good, nonprofit board members is an ongoing challenge. For many nonprofit organizations the board development issue feels especially urgent right now. The competition for good board members is increasing.

The philanthropic environment has nearly recovered from the Great Recession, but many philanthropists are still very cautious about where to invest their dollars, time and energy. Organizations who have been largely supported by government grants and contracts, their long-held intention to diversify their revenue through board members with financial capacity and connections, are now faced with the reality that it’s harder than they thought to find strong board members.

Regardless of the type of nonprofit you serve, its size, or the nature of your board and organizational funding, the following tips will help you get started on a productive path of board development.

One of the primary questions The Alford Group hears from both CEOs and board members is:

Where and how can we find the best board members? We keep asking our current board members to bring us names and either they say they don’t have connections to the ‘right people’ or they bring a list of names of the highest profile people in town that are on everyone’s list. Help!”

The first place to start is by asking yourself: What do we need from our board?

You may say, “We need people with money! We need corporate CEOs! We need connectors, people who have influence!”

Of course you do!

Let’s start with the characteristics that every nonprofit institution should have as their top priorities in seeking new board members. This strategic focus may lead you to those with affluence and influence.

5 key characteristics of excellent nonprofit board member candidates

#1 Passion

Your top board candidates will have genuine passion for your organization and its purpose – or at least an affinity for what your organization does or the population you serve. In some cases, excellent board members started as individuals who may not yet have this passion, but have the desire to learn more about what the organization does and the willingness to become involved and ultimately develop passion.

#2 Time AND treasure

Both time and treasure to help your organization fulfill its mission is key to engagement. Excellent board candidates are interested in fully participating – attending meetings regularly, actively serving on committees, etc. They are supportive, yet ready to ask the tough questions. And they have the capacity and willingness to make a personal contribution and engage in fundraising activities.

#3 Nonprofit board experience

Top candidates will understand good business practices and ideally have nonprofit board experience. Without specific experience, candidates should be able to embrace that nonprofit boards are governance boards and not management boards.

#4 Strategic thinking capabilities

He/she should be a strategic thinker with the ability to internalize the long-term vision of your work and an interest in ongoing learning in the organization’s field of service.

#5 Integrity

You should look for integrity – plain and simple. In nonprofit board candidates, integrity means a personal and public commitment to transparency in the organization’s finances and business practices, as well as the capacity and ability to follow through on board responsibilities.

4 places to look for excellent board members

#1 Current volunteers and/or major donors

Stop looking for new faces – the best candidates may be right in front of you! Take a look at your organization’s current volunteers and/or major donors. These are the people who are already sold on who you are and are passionate about your mission and vision. Even if the key volunteers and donors you meet with are not interested in joining your board, ask them for ideas and connections. Find those that have two degrees of separation to key board prospects.

#2 Relationships with your board and staff

One important activity to conduct is relationship mapping with your board and staff. Set aside time to brainstorm connections that your board members and staff members may have through their professional associations, alumni group, faith community, personal “vendors”, friends and neighbors. In addition to looking for specific board prospects within those groups, look also for people who can connect to others that may fill board roles. Remember, you are looking for the two degrees of separation!

#3 LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch.org

LinkedIn is a great resource for finding excellent board members. You can search by skills or even post a board opportunity. Check out LinkedIn Board Connect. Another great online resource is Volunteer Match.

#4 In the news

As you read the news to stay updated on topics and changes in your sector, keep an eye out for who is quoted in the articles and who is involved in the projects. Up and comers are often highlighted in business journals and magazines. Read their bios and be sure to look for affinities and connections.

Excellent board members are out there! The most important step you can take in finding them for your organization is to commit to taking action. Create a basic plan, gather your most engaged board members and get going. Here are three specific action steps to take right away.

Three Action Steps: 

1. Create a board matrix that indicates the demographics, professional skills and characteristics of your current board. Then identify where your gaps are that would be important to your organization.

2. Build your pipeline of board prospects based on the gaps you want to fill and the potential candidates that surfaced through your research.

3. Have a courtship before marriage. Recruiting board members needs to be a thoughtful and strategic vetting and cultivation practice.  

One of the easiest steps to take is to check out The Alford Group’s Board Member Toolkit.

The following are also a few excellent online sites that often provide free tools, webinars, and information.

BoardSource

GuideStar

National Council of Nonprofits

Good luck in recruiting your next excellent board member!

The Alford Group in Movie Mondays

Our Senior Vice President and Midwest Division Manager, Brenda Asare, was featured this week in 501 Video’s Movie Monday! To see Brenda’s video, click here. If you haven’t already signed up for Movie Mondays, they are a great way to get insight from your colleagues in the not-for-profit world on issues from governance to major gifts to best practices in fundraising.

And here’s what Chris Davenport, creator of Movie Mondays, had to say about Brenda’s video:

Are your board members enthusiastic to come to board meetings? In this week’s movie, Brenda B. Asare from The Alford Group talks about how board meetings are being run differently to better engage their members and to be more effective. She has several ideas you may want to incorporate if you’re not already doing so.
 

The Alford Group is also working on another, top-secret project with 501 Videos, which will be released in a few weeks. Check back in with us to find out how you can get involved in our latest project.

The Unfortunate Lure of Small Not-For-Profit Governing Boards

pic_Committees1Over the past several years, many not-for-profits have begun to shrink their boards to sizes ranging from 9 to 12 people.  Both board and staff leaders have argued that a smaller board is more productive and easier to manage.  This model seems to be coming from the for-profit board where smaller boards are the norm (comparably) and chief executives are also the board chair (though this trend is changing as more corporate boards are choosing an independent director to be the chair of the board).

I would contend that the size of the board should be based on the amount of community engagement the organization wishes to have.  If a not-for-profit organization does not require significant community engagement then it does not need to structure itself with a large amount of community interaction.  However, if philanthropy is to play a role in the organization, then community engagement at the volunteer leadership level is essential.

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The Role of the Board: What Board members should be thinking and doing

Last week, I wrote on how staff should be working to support the efforts of their not-for-profit board members.  A few days later I received a comment from a reader encouraging me to write about the board members’ responsibilities.  Over the years, I have kept a list of board member responsibilities that I have used during training sessions and board retreats, and I’ve allowed board members to offer comments and suggestions to edit, revise, and clarify their roles.  Here are several points from that document for your review and comment:

First, I believe boards have two functions: one, to “guard the mission” of the organization; and two, to hire, advise, and if necessary, replace the executive director (or CEO).

Roles for Boards to “Guard the Mission”:

  • Provide leadership to and approve a strategic plan for the organization
  • Assure that programming and financial allocations are focused on fulfilling the mission (guarding against “mission creep”)
  • Assure that proper financial stewardship is maintained
  • Contribute financially to the organization according to your means
  • Advocate for the organization to secure community and financial support
  • Open doors for staff who are seeking support from others
  • Continue to expand your knowledge of the community needs that the mission of the organization is addressing, and your knowledge of best practices to meet those needs
  • Participate in board meetings, demanding quality presentations from staff, and providing equal quality on your part during board and committee discussions
  • Offer your talents and time to serve on committees and/or as a committee chair or officer; when accepting an assignment, fulfill it to the best of your ability

Roles for Boards to “Hire, Advise and/or Replace” the Executive Director:

  • Annually set expectation goals for the executive staff leader that parallel and/or complement the goals in the strategic plan
  • Annually evaluate the executive staff leader on his/her performance toward fulfilling their goals and the organization’s strategic plan
  • Be available to offer expertise and counsel to the executive staff leader when called upon to do so
  • Hold executive sessions of the board that include the executive staff leader, and some sessions that do not include the executive staff leader, to discuss strategic direction of the organization and operational issues that need to be addressed by the board
  • Develop a succession plan that has both emergency implementation guidelines as well as strategic implementation for retirements and natural transitions
  • Hold the executive staff leader accountable for results, and when results are not consistently met, replace the executive staff leader

Recently I was conducting a board retreat and as we were discussing board roles and responsibilities, two comments from board members present were quite memorable.  First, as a board member, you are part of a team – so be a good teammate and team player.  Second, a board member should be willing to accept any role, including board chair, without aspiring to have that role.  The second quality speaks to servant leadership and the importance it has for the success of a quality board and a quality organization.

So what have been your experiences and observations, and what else do you know about board roles and responsibilities?  I look forward to your comments and insights.

All the best and happy holidays,

Tom