Your organization is thriving. You’re raising money to fulfill your mission. Perhaps you’re entering a period of expansion—preparing a campaign, launching an exciting program, or hiring new staff to ramp up to the next level. There’s much to think about, and to do.
When things are going well it’s tempting to focus solely on your mission, taking the attitude of “Let’s leave well enough alone,” or even, “If it ain’t broke,” regarding your board of directors. But developing the best possible board should always be a top priority. A competent, engaged board helps your nonprofit achieve its goals and more, while an ineffective board may hold it back or even jeopardize its survival. Fortunately, effective board-building strategies are easily incorporated into any nonprofit’s business plan.
First review the composition of your board, taking into consideration age, gender, background, ethnicity, and professional achievements of members. Figure out which areas are lacking. Perhaps it’s comprised almost entirely of retirees, or of men. If so, it may be time to aim for some diversity, to bring different perspectives to the table. With diversity as a standard, seek out people who have demonstrated a strong commitment to your cause. Look for passion, a shared vision, and willingness to devote a significant amount of time to the organization.
Taking a page out of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears, don’t create a board that is too large or too small. You want one that’s just right. Too small won’t bring enough different viewpoints to your organization and may limit fundraising opportunities created by board member connections. A smaller board may also burn out under the weight of too many responsibilities. Too large, and you may have trouble securing a quorum or keeping meetings productive as everyone weighs in. Determining an ideal board size depends on many factors and varies from one organization to the next.
Seek board members with different skill sets. Nonprofit boards have multiple roles—fundraising, public relations, and strategic direction being just a few of them. Fundraising prowess is an obvious priority. Also high on any must-have list is business experience. Financial and strategic planning are critical to your organization’s sustainability. Individuals with marketing and communication skills bring added value to your board.
While many nonprofits select board members on the basis of their generous gifts, you don’t want a board comprised entirely of donors. Such a composition may shift the board’s focus more to the bottom line than the mission. There are other ways to recognize a donor’s generosity and involve them in fundraising: Invite them to sit on an advisory board or profile them in your newsletter or website.
It’s a good idea to develop an informal pipeline of potential board members and get to know them over time. These contenders will be people who have shown a strong interest in your organization and its goals. Get them involved gradually by inviting them to serve on a committee or volunteer for an event. That way you’ll be able to get a feel for their level of commitment.
With these thoughts in mind, building a quality board of directors seems attainable. One last thought: set term limits. This strategy helps you keep your board fresh, committed, and enthusiastic.