Writing a blog post about creating an effective nonprofit board is a little bit like sharing a favorite recipe for macaroni and cheese.
Some people may find the instructions too simplistic, some may object to a few of the ingredients (goat cheese?!), others may be looking for the gluten-free version, and a small group simply won’t consider anything that wasn’t offered up by Bobby Flay.
So at the risk of all of those things, here’s my recipe for assembling a dynamite board.
First, know what you need.
What I mean by this is know where you are as an organization in terms of your relative strengths and weaknesses, where you are headed, or where you want to head in the future.
For example, if you have done some thinking about launching a revenue-generating enterprise within your nonprofit, you probably want to attract people to the board who have expertise in that area. If you are poised for expansion and anticipate that your nonprofit may be on the verge of adding a large number of staff during the next several years, then you should probably be thinking about recruiting someone to the board who has solid HR experience.
Whatever your situation, think carefully about the kinds of skills and connections you need to enhance the reach and expertise of your staff.
Second, get your governance house in order.
Make sure that your policy and governance documents are complete and serve your best interests, that your board manual is current, and that the governance structure makes sense.
For instance, do your working committees work effectively? Do they operate synergistically alongside staff? Are they organized around the most pressing needs of your nonprofit?
As I’ve said on more than one occasion, bylaws are not the Dead Sea Scrolls – they need to be reviewed regularly and updated from time to time to make sure they work effectively for your nonprofit.
Once you’ve made sure all of those things are in place, you can move along to the next step…
Develop a list of people who will steward your organization and move it forward.
When you think through this list, make sure it is diverse in every sense of the word and that the people on it represent the best doers and thinkers you know.
Through a series of one-on-one meetings, visits to your program, and constructive conversations where you plainly state your expectations of board members, you’ll be able to determine whether each candidate has the right combination of skills and commitment.
To do all of this right, you’ll need to be clear that you want board members who are true partners in advancing the work of your nonprofit. You’ll need to be careful to pick people who are positive contributors and won’t give you indigestion! If you want the board to be the Panko crumb topping on your mac and cheese (i.e., a nice looking garnish), this recipe won’t work for you.
Just the other day I ran into one of the new board members who joined Dreams for Change as a result of a governance restructuring and board recruitment consulting project I led for them. When I asked how it was going, he thanked me for connecting him to the organization and to such a highly motivated group of fellow board members.
Now that’s a yummy outcome!
Pat Libby Consulting is a San Diego based firm that offers nonprofit consulting and philanthropy consulting services. Get in touch for more information on board recruitment services, or to schedule a free consultation.