Desperately Seeking Board Members

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An ongoing problem many nonprofit organizations face is finding new board members. For a large number of us, this ranks only behind fundraising as the biggest thorn in our side. Finding the time to recruit people is tough, not to mention knowing where to look for them. The most common initial step in identifying potential board members starts with our current board. It’s simple – we ask them who they know. The problem is that in many cases within a few minutes that discussion comes to a dead end. Now we’re faced with squeezing “find board members” onto our already packed to-do list. We see there’s a Chamber of Commerce mixer next week followed by a Rotary meeting the following Wednesday. Maybe I can ask my CPA if she knows someone. I think I’ll approach the guy across the street who owns a print shop. Maybe he will serve on the board and donate in-kind printing…yay!

Let’s face it, a lot of us probably daydream about having an entire group of people who are passionate about our mission, willing to open doors for fundraising opportunities, seasoned professionals within their industries, with personal capacity to give, and bring a deep and connected network to the table. We see other organizations with these rock stars and wonder, “How can I get in on that action?” The Chamber mixer or Rotary meeting is not the answer.

The problem lies with the existing way we recruit board members. It’s inefficient and ineffective, and it’s time we change the approach. One solution, which is gaining steam in the nonprofit world, is retaining a search firm to find board members. Now you might say, “Why in the world would I pay someone else to find board members?” Well, you might because of the challenges that confront nonprofits seeking new board members now. Tapping into a service with a sole focus on matching borad members for nonprofit boards offers these benefits:

  • Expertise in the nonprofit environment, and nonprofit governance issues in particular – something that traditional search firms may not appreciate.
  • Contacts with individuals who have already expressed an interest in serving on a nonprofit board, and know generally what is expected – they just need a little help finding the right board to serve on.
  • Potentially a pipeline relationship with a for-profit in the community that is interested in supporting nonprofits, and will encourage its executives towards board service.
  • Finally, willingness to take the time to learn what the nonprofit is seeking in new board members, and the ability to focus on a search - in contrast to the limited time that existing board and staff members have, given their regular jobs and responsibilities, and for whom recruiting new board members is an add-on, and time-consuming task.

Whether your nonprofit is looking for board members from certain industries with a particular expertise, or board members from a specific geographic region or company, to add diversity, or simply to find new board members who are passionate about your nonprofit’s mission, board search firms can help.

A board search concept is really no different from retaining an executive search firm to fill an important paid staff position within your organization. You outsource this task to save time and expand your reach to identify the most qualified candidates. However, board search firms charge a fraction of what executive search firms do, and the return on your investment is immediate, tangible and can multiply.

The strongest nonprofit organizations today have one common thread. They each possess an engaged and committed board that can open doors and help transform the organization into a sustainable one. Are you ready to take that step?

David Lewis is the Founder and President of Board Member Connect, a nonprofit board search firm. Board Member Connect places C-level, Senior-level, and VP level executives on local, national, and international nonprofit boards.


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