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Effective board recruitment, Part 1

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Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin

[Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles on nonprofit board recruitment. Read Part 2, on putting the plan to work.]

By Terrie Temkin

Identifying and recruiting the right board members for your nonprofit takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

The key is creating a strategic and intentional recruitment plan.

And if you don’t have the right people on your board, my guess is that even if you have a plan, you probably haven’t worked it. And, of course, you have to have the right plan.

What I present here is not the only way to achieve results, but it is tested. Before attempting to break the rules, I suggest focusing on these basics:

  • Determine and record your nonprofit’s needs in relationship to your vision. For example, do you need to expand your programming or build a coalition to have greater impact?
  • Define the core governance functions and specific jobs that must be undertaken to meet those needs. Focus on elements that must be priorities and key activities of the board. Don’t just assume you need fundraisers; look carefully at the needs you identified above. Perhaps you need to build awareness of legislation required for the expanded programming you hope to provide.
  • Define the skill sets, characteristics and connections needed to execute those functions and jobs. In this case it might be people with marketing or lobbying experience, or who have contacts with lawmakers, and who can research the implications of legislation your nonprofit supports.
  • Consider the ideal composition of the board. What size board will work best given the jobs that need to be done and the skills required? If diversity is important, how will you define it and ensure that people feel comfortable and valued when offering their opinions? Will you benefit from a broad geographical representation or a more limited one? (To help you identify the best composition for your board, click here.)
  • Set clear expectations, in writing, for board members. What do you expect regarding attendance at meetings, making a donation and serving on committees? Be specific and aim high. People will live up to, or down to, your expectations.
  • Create job descriptions. Use the governance functions and specific jobs listed above, along with board expectations, to write a job description. This will lend importance to the job and serve as a contract with your board members.
  • Brainstorm the types of people who might want these jobs. To find people interested in lobbying, consider retired legislators, lobbyists, campaign managers, political-science professors, members of the League of Women Voters or policy makers, for example.
  • Think about what you can offer the people who agree to serve. Be sure you can articulate why your organization is worthy of their support.
  • Ask “connectors” and “mavens” (author Malcolm Gladwell defines the former as matchmakers with large networks and the second as information experts) who they know that fits your profile. Consider turning to clergy, realtors, relevant bloggers, journalists, etc. Remember, you’re not asking them to join your board; you’re asking who they know, trust and would recommend.
  • Determine how to cultivate recommended individuals. It would be unlikely someone would serve on your board without knowing anything about your nonprofit. As soon as you receive names, put them on your mailing list and provide them with newsletters, an annual report and copies of impact stories. Inviting them on a tour or to an event.
  • Consider how to approach “the ask.” Who is the best person to approach each individual? What message might appeal most? Be prepared to share your expectations fully and without apology.
  • Engage one-on-one with those recommended by the “connectors” and “mavens.” Get a feel for their level of interest in what you do. Get names of other people you can approach. An important secondary goal is building a pipeline for future leadership.

This will take time and effort. But it can produce amazing results.


Terrie Temkin is founding principal at the Miami, Fla.-based management consulting group CoreStrategies for Nonprofits.

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