Monday, July 14, 2014

How do you find your first Board of Directors?

This is one of the questions that comes up fairly often when I'm working with an aspiring  nonprofit founder.
First , understand that the board is a governing body. You don't want to put your sister or your Mom on the board unless they are actively involved in your charity and they understand their legal and leadership role.

Before you recruit board members, read up on what the board (as a body) is supposed to be doing.  Typically, and aside from the legal and fiduciary requirements, the board facilitates the culture and direction for the organization relative to its mission.
That means they all should be on the same page when it comes to the mission and vision statement. They should know what the end game is, and have a basic understanding of what it will take to get there.

They should also be able to get along. All boards have times when someone disagrees with the majority, but that person or persons need to be able to do it politely and with respect for other viewpoints. Stay away from divas and drama junkies.

So, where DO you find board members?  There is no one right way, but in general, your first board will probably have at least some members that have helped you get started; in short they will be people you know well.

After that, try to approach people you may know about or who have specific skills to add to the board.  Although there is no rule, it is always good to contact people with  experience on nonprofit boards, but be sure that they are genuinely interested in your organization. Some people are what I call professional joiners.

For the sake of argument, let's say you are new to town and don't have many contacts.  Try asking local groups if you can present your organization at one of their meetings.  Some places to start are the local Chamber of Commerce, and trade or industry groups that might have some connection with your mission, churches, and your local elected officials. These are great places to use your elevator speech.

Let them know you are looking for board members and ask them to pass the word along to their friends and connections if they aren't interested. And don't forget co-workers.  The more people that know about you, the more likely you are to have a well-rounded group of applicants to interview.

One  other way is to take out a small ad in your local paper.  It doesn't have to be fancy…just a heading that says you will be interviewing for board membership, the name of your organization and your mission statement, as in this example:
ABC Charity will be accepting applications for board membership from M/D/Y to M/D/Y.
Our mission is to (Insert mission statement here).
For more information please call 555-555-5555 or email (your name@xxxxx).

Don't forget the lowly flyer.  Post them at grocery stores, restaurants or other places where people tend to gather. Always ask permission though, or the flyer may be removed before anyone sees it.

Be ready to answer questions. Be sure you have a written description of your expectations, a job description, if you will. Many times you will attract someone who is very interested but has no board experience, so you will need to start with the basics.

If you are not already a 501(c)(3), you may also want to try to attract someone in the legal and accounting fields, or at least with a business background to help guide the organization through its first few years.
Many, many nonprofits start out with just a group of friends or family.  As long as they understand that they have to take those hats off and put on their board member's hat for meetings, that can work out just fine. In your bylaws, have an out for them in the form of specific terms or lengths of service.  Serving on the board shouldn't be and shouldn't feel like a life sentence.

If you have further questions, feel free to email me at:

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