Finding the Best Fit: The Questions You Should Ask When Finding Board Members

You have openings on your board. Finding new board members is a big responsibility—and a great opportunity! Take the time to find candidates who are the best fit.

Nonprofit boards have ultimate responsibility for the organization’s mission, finances, program quality, and for recruiting, supporting, and evaluating the staff leadership. Board membership is an ethical and legal duty not to be taken lightly. Finding new members who complement and balance your board is essential to a healthy organization.

You may have donors or volunteers who have given to the organization for years. They support the mission and admire the staff. Are they ready for board membership? Ask yourself these questions first.

  •         Are they passionate about the cause? Board service is a big commitment. It can be gratifying to see the organization’s impact on the community. But, at times, board service is challenging and even frustrating. If they have genuine passion for the mission, they’ll have resilience for the tough times and find success especially satisfying.
  •         Can they devote the time? Board service is more than attendance at meetings. It takes time to prepare for each meeting in order to contribute to discussions and make informed decisions. Most boards also require service on a committee, which means more meetings and more preparation. And there may be special events that board members will be expected to attend. Effective board members are highly active participants in the life of the organization.   
  •         Can they make the financial commitment? Nonprofit organizations rely on charitable contributions, and board members are asked to set an example through their personal support. Some organizations suggest a minimum gift amount from board members; others ask board members to make the cause a “philanthropic priority.” It is likely they’ll also be asked to make solicitations and help raise funds.
  •         Are they comfortable with group process? Board work is teamwork. Only the board-as-a-whole has authority for the organization; no single board member may act on his or her own. Decision-making can require time, discussion, compromise, and patience.

These questions will help evaluate prospective board members. Then think about your organization.

  •         Is the role clearly defined? Is the organization stable? Provide a written description of board members’ responsibilities. The “job description” should clarify what is expected of a board member in terms of time, talent, and treasure. Supply minutes from recent board meetings and audited financial statements, as well. These should indicate the current state of the organization’s affairs.

When you’ve found board members who really fit, be sure they have ample resources to help them fulfill their commitment to your organization. For example, BoardSource (www.boardsource.org) offers a variety of tools to help boards and board members serve effectively. They can subscribe to digital newsletters such as Board Café (www.compasspoint.org/board-café-archives) or Blue Avocado  (www.blueavocado.org/). Each sector also has unique support organizations ranging from the American Alliance of Museums or Americans for the Arts to the local United Way.

Opportunities For All

Board members can anticipate benefits when they help a nonprofit organization realize its mission, such as:

  • New Skills – Board service may provide personal and professional growth that has application on the job or at home.
  • Broader Networks – Board members will meet people with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences who may enrich their lives and introduce them to new opportunities.
  • Paying Forward – Nonprofit organizations actively contribute to a community’s quality of life.
  • Giving Back – There is mounting evidence that altruistic acts such as volunteering time and donating money provide psychological and social benefits.

And for the organization, the fit is vital. Your nonprofit—and your community—win the advantage with the thoughtful selection of a skilled, harmonious board that can govern the organization effectively today and guide it to a successful future.