Most states require only 3 board members on the board of directors in order to incorporate a nonprofit. Depending on the situation, it has been my experience that many new nonprofits are started by a small group of friends, colleagues, associates or even family members with a common interest. Unfortunately, not much attention is paid to the qualifications and expertise of these individuals. Even more unfortunate is many of these organizations continue to recruit and add board members who are either under-qualified to serve as board members or who are simply not ” board material”.
Of course, starting a new nonprofit can be exciting, and if you know of others who have your same interest at heart, their willingness and eagerness to buy into your ideas give you a great sense of inspiration, prompting you to invite them to join your board. However, recruiting board members should be done just as strategically as developing your funding plan and creating your organization’s programs.
Board members are not simply appointed to fill the seats around the table in the boardroom. Board members are most effective, particularly within new and small nonprofits when they can assist in operations and perform duties that would otherwise be performed by staff members, but on a voluntary basis (in the event that staff members can not be afforded or compensated).
While it may sound prestigious to say that you are nonprofit board member, board members have a number of responsibilities. When recruiting board members, keep mind that you will want a strong board, a board that is competent and capable of the following:
1) Governance and Policy Creation: With this board members should not only be able to understand and articulate the mission of the organization, but to assist in the development and revisions of policies where necessary, and establish and oversee committees.
2) Stewardship: Board members (or at least a representative of the board) should be knowledgeable in regards to finances and fiscal responsibilities. They should be able to develop and approve budgets, ensure financial accountability, and ensure the effective and efficient use of resources.
3) Building: Board members should be able to act as leaders. Board members should serve pivotal roles in strategic planning and planning for major fundraising and funding efforts. Board members should also lead by example and be willing to mentor and education new board members, assist in securing finances for the growth and development of the organization, and provide oversight and guidance as the organization works toward the achievement of specific goals and objectives.
4) Advocating: Board members should serve as advocates as well as ambassadors for their organizations and for their cause in particular. Board members should support and protect the organization’s image, actively seek opportunities to share the mission of their organization with others.
5) Leading in Operations: Board members should be able to assist in recruitment and hiring of staff when necessary, review and evaluate in matters relating to compensation of staff, identify and develop programs that will aid in the growth of the organization, establish and oversee operational policies and guidelines, and and serve in the capacity of the “court of appeals” in the event of disagreements or organizational disputes.
Now, these are just the basic requirements of a board that “brings it”. By “bringing it”, I mean a board that is functioning as it should, a board that will be regarded as strong and competent as it relates to sustaining a successful nonprofit.
Again, while your board should definitely be diverse in its make-up and should include a mixture of backgrounds, expertise, experiences, skills, talents, and statuses (socio-economic and professional), all board members regardless of their personal or professional backgrounds should be knowledgeable and willing to operate in the above mentioned roles.
If your board members are not up to par in these areas, continuing education and board training is an absolute necessity. If you have board members who are unwilling to serve in a manner that moves them from simply being a warm body in the boardroom to “bringing it”, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate … and even renew, revise, and restructure your board.