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  • Pat Libby

Want to look like a genius? Recruit a great nonprofit board

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Hey nonprofit leaders, can we talk honestly about you and your board?

If you’re good at your job, you’re an adept problem-solver.

You have a deep understanding of the issues or services you provide, and think boldly about how to approach your work in both time-tested and new ways.

You know how to make the trains run on time yet you often struggle to recruit excellent board members.

(Sometimes you might even wish you weren’t even required to have a board so you try to create a bobble-head board that agrees with each pearl of wisdom that escapes your lips).

But great boards can help you do great things.

Rather than think of Board recruitment as daunting, think about it in three very simple steps:

  1. Find someone who is passionate about your work.

  2. Make sure that person has the specific skills you need to advance your work.

  3. Commit to a productive partnership between you and the board member.

The first step is the easiest and where most people stop. Let’s talk about the other two.

2. Finding someone who has skills you need

Napoleon Dynamite laments that “Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills…”like nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills…”

Nonprofits have a similar inferiority complex: They think dynamic people will only want them if their organization is perfect.

As Brené Brown says, vulnerability is not weakness; it’s a way of being courageous.

The reality is that smart people will join your board if you can clearly state why you need their skills (and not simply their money and connections which they know are likely to be part of the package).

If you want to move your nonprofit from point A to point B (like every other nonprofit in the world), you’ll need expertise and ideas – marketing skills, business planning skills, HR skills, legal expertise, etc.

And the more smart minds you have helping you think through these challenges, the better off you’ll be.

Take a step back to think strategically about what you need to do to advance your mission and then recruit people who care about your cause AND have those skills and abilities!

Which brings me to:

3. Creating a productive partnership.

Once you’ve figured out what you need, have identified people with the knowledge/ability/skillset and passion for what you do, then you must commit yourself and your organization to engage in a productive Board-staff partnership.

Partnership is the key word here.

What does that look like?

  • Outlining board responsibilities clearly and in writing

  • Providing board members with critical information in advance of meetings (and expecting them to carefully read that material)

  • Starting and ending meetings on time


After all, that’s why you’ve recruited them!

Boards that engage with staff to strategize and help advance the organization work wonders and make YOU look like a genius!


Pat Libby is a San Diego based management consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has helped numerous organizations reimagine their Boards.

Get in touch if you have any questions! You can also read more about Pat Libby's consulting services.


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