Recruiting Board Members: Who, What, How, When, Why

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If you work for a nonprofit organization, you know a strong board is a necessity. Why? Nonprofit board members act as an organization’s fiduciary (ensuring appropriate controls over finances), provide governance, review the executive director’s performance, and approve important policy decisions. That’s a lot of responsibility, so it’s important you get the right people for your board.

In terms of fundraising, board members are essential. Every board member needs to agree to support your nonprofit with a personally significant gift every year. They also are an extension of your development team, seeking donations from others.

Are you a new nonprofit putting together your first board? Or are you an established nonprofit wanting to know how to create a strong board pipeline for the future? Read on to learn all the ways to identify the best candidates.


Finding New Board Members

I once heard a respected fundraising consultant say that the way to choose a great board is by following his “4W” model. What? Let’s take a look because this really makes sense.


A high-functioning board needs people with expertise in various professional Legal, marketing, financial, and fundraising can be a huge plus. These skills are complimentary to your staff’s expertise, even more so if your staff is early in their career. And, with changes constantly occurring in terms of governmental regulations, these skill sets will be especially valuable, helping your nonprofit stay current with new rules and requirements.


Individual donors provided 67% of philanthropy in 2021, according to Giving USA.  That means, at least a few of your potential board members need to be people with the capacity to make generous gifts, and who know others who can do likewise.


Every nonprofit board needs a few members willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work, whether it’s licking envelopes for a mailing, proofreading copy, planning special events, reviewing legal documentation, or volunteering in ways other than their board service.


Every board also needs several members who are highly respected in your community. These board members can raise your nonprofit’s reputation, as well as introduce your organization to its peers.

Besides the 4Ws, potential board members should also have:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • A “can do” attitude
  • A commitment to attend as many meetings as possible
  • A spirit of cooperation
  • A healthy sense of humor


How to identify potential board members

1. Who does your existing board know?

As your board members for recommendations of suitable candidates. Since your board acts as your nonprofit’s advocate, they undoubtedly can think of potentially suitable candidates.

If they are connected to any of your major donors, that donor might become a good board candidate themselves, and a board connection can help broach the topic.

2. Don’t recruit family members or close friends of the executive director.

Avoid conflicts of interest, especially if your executive director is also the nonprofit’s founder. It’s difficult for family members or dear friends to be impartial, and you don’t want a “rubber-stamp” board.

3. Recruit diverse candidates

Have you ever noticed how homogenized nonprofit boards can be? Many boards are still made up of older, affluent white men. Boards are slowly becoming more diverse, but genuine momentum still isn’t happening. Board Source’s  Leading with Intent report claims 66% of nonprofit executive directors remain dissatisfied with their board’s diversity. Fortunately, the increasing trend focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is slowly turning the boat around. Find people with different experiences, candidates of color, women, and emerging young leaders as candidates.

4. Conduct due diligence

You don’t want to inadvertently be vetting a candidate with a questionable occupation or improper interests. Wealth screening can provide you with deep insight from publicly available information, including media mentions, and stock holdings (if your candidate is part of the C-Suite at a publicly traded company).

How to reach out to candidates

OK, you’ve got a list of promising board candidates who have been well vetted. You’re ready for the next steps. Consider the following:

1. Cultivation

A prospective nonprofit board member needs to be cultivated, just as you’d cultivate a promising donor. Bring them on-site and show them your nonprofit’s work. Take them to coffee or lunch. Find out what they are passionate about, and if they have the time, interest, and inclination to serve.  Then, be sure to enter what you’ve discerned and learned in your CRM.

2. Determine who will make the ask

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t asking the candidate for money. This is asking them if they are willing to be on your board. This is a great time to get existing board members involved in the process, especially if they know the candidate. Ask your board member if they are comfortable inviting their contact onto the board, or if they would accompany the executive director if she were going to ask the candidate.

3. Assign a mentor

In the early months of board service, having an existing board member serve as a mentor to the new member can be useful for everyone involved.  Now, the new board member knows who to ask questions of, provides context, and helps build camaraderie.

4.  Conduct a formal orientation

Each new board member needs a formal orientation to the board and to your organization. Make this a group affair, having existing board members lead various segments. Offer new members an information packet, including board position description, conflict of interest policy, confidentiality clause for signature, and more. For more information on board orientations, go here.

Helpful? We hope so. If so, please let us know.

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