Selecting Nonprofit Board Members: Three Steps to Success

We all know that people make the difference when it comes to nonprofits. That goes not only for the staff you employ, but your board members as well.

An effective board plays a critical role in the strength, impact and longevity of your nonprofit. And it all starts with selecting the right group of people. But where do you begin?

Step 1: Establish Key Committees

A nonprofit board’s work often spans several areas, from finance to marketing to actual operations. You should divide that work into key committees. Most boards have the following:

  • Executive – Acts on behalf of the board to make decisions
  • Finance – Monitors budget, cash flow, reserves, etc. to monitor the organization’s financial health
  • Audit – Monitors effectiveness of internal controls and compliance regulation
  • Development – Oversees fundraising efforts and encourages board involvement in them
  • Program – Aligns the nonprofit’s programs with its mission and progress against key goals and metrics

You might not need all of these areas covered. And perhaps you’ll think of others that would better suit your organization. Whatever your choices, establish committees first so you know what skills you’ll need on your board.

Step 2: Find Diverse Members

Any group benefits from people with a variety of abilities and backgrounds. Your nonprofit board is no exception. Diversity does more than allow for a wider collective skill set; it brings different ideas and perspectives to the table.

For starters, recruit key skill sets, even if you have the experience yourself. Areas of particular importance include:

  • Fundraising and development
  • Finance and investing
  • Legal services
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Technology
  • Human resources
  • Advocacy

Recruit from multiple demographics. Consider various ages, genders, races and anything else appropriate. Pay attention in particular to the demographics of the people you serve. Board members with these same characteristics will provide a better perspective of their needs.

On a related note, select board members from across the area you serve. If your nonprofit covers a large geographic footprint, this will provide more accurate representation on your board.

Finally, find people who are passionate about your cause. Such board members are more likely to be actively engaged and invested in your nonprofit’s mission.

Step 3: Get Them Started on the Right Foot

Once you’ve selected your board members, make sure they’re oriented and properly trained. This is a step we’ve seen many nonprofits take with staff but skip with their board.

Let’s say you run a low-cost healthcare clinic for an underserved population and you hire an experienced nurse. Sure, she knows how to care for patients. But your clinic likely has unique procedures of its own that this new person must learn.

The same goes for your board members. You might find an accountant with a decade of experience to serve on your board. If she doesn’t know your nonprofit’s unique financial operations, however, she can’t serve to her fullest potential. So make sure to educate board members not only on your mission, but on your operations as well.

Then…keep them engaged. Check in with them before or after meetings to get their perspective. Invite them to participate in the work your nonprofit does through volunteering. Recognize them publicly in the bios section of your website. Remember them on their birthdays and other special occasions.

In other words, stay involved with your board members from the beginning. Engagement is a long-term responsibility.

Need more help?

The needs of nonprofits differ from traditional businesses. So it’s important to seek assistance from firms that serve organizations like yours. James Moore’s nonprofit CPAs can guide you through the board selection process, keeping your unique requirements in mind.

Your board will provide critical guidance that shapes the future of your organization. When you take the right steps in selecting board members, that future is bound to be a bright one—not only for your nonprofit, but for those it serves as well.

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