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Staffing the Nonprofit Board for Impact

By Martha Lasley
Coaching for Transformation
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Ideally board members come with a wide range of skills, diverse backgrounds, the ability to provide oversight, and the motivation to raise funds. But how do we get high caliber people on the board?

The most common mistake is we tend to beg people to join the board by downplaying the amount of work it takes. So guess what we get – figureheads who contribute little.

A bolder way to get skilled leadership on the board is to negotiate up front what we want, co-designing the expectations. Ideally we only want people on the board who could potentially serve as board president. It’s difficult to get rid of ineffective board members, so we need to make it at least as difficult to get them on the board as to get them off.

As stewards of the organization, an effective board recruits willing experts as though it’s a courtship. With a rigorous, compassionate process up front, we can enroll real talent which attracts other movers and shakers.

We choose board members the same way we choose employees – we interview them.

Some questions to ask to get qualified board members: 

  1. What passion do you have for the cause?
  2. What connections, resources, and expertise do you bring?
  3. How have you contributed to other boards?
  4. How will you benefit personally by serving on our board?
  5. What do you want to learn while you're on the board?
  6. The ED and board chair meet individually with each board member for an annual performance evaluation, to thank you for serving and to ask for your gift. Can you make a financial commitment that is a stretch?
  7. What concerns do you have about joining the board?
  8. How many hours a month can you give us?
  9. The three primary board roles are ambassador, advocate, and asker. Which role is most appealing to you?

If we ensure we select only people who want to be part of an evolving, learning team, then the impact of the organization soars.

These questions should give you a much more detailed profile of your board recruit and provide better information on which to build a productive and mutually fulfilling relationship.

Like hiring an employee, we need to get beyond the obvious information and find out what really motivates a potential board member. Then our job—the even more important one—is to make sure we remember these motivations as we assign, coach, engage, and reward board members.


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