Board Building 101: How to Build Your Dream Board

A nonprofit’s board of directors is much more than a legal requirement—it’s a powerful business strategy. Think of your board members as your super-volunteers. Build a diverse board that effectively draws upon members’ unique backgrounds, skills, and resources. Here’s how:

Step 1: Mapping Demographics

To begin building an effective board of directors, determine what categories of board members will provide a diverse, demographic mix. In fact, some funding sources will pass over a non-profit if its board inadequately reflects its community or beneficiaries.

Step 2: Assessing Skills and Talents of Potential Board Members

Don’t let demographics be the only factor that you consider. Above all, your board members must posses skills and experience in areas that will benefit your nonprofit (legal, financial, marketing, development, etc.). In addition, it will be helpful to have board members with access to foundations, corporations, individual donors, media contacts, and political contacts.

Step 3: Recruiting Strategies

Before you can recruit, you must have a clear description of the board position to be filled. Not only will this help you hone in on adequate candidates, but prospective board members will always want to see in writing what will be expected of them before they make a commitment. Another useful recruiting practice is to form a board development committee to assume the responsibility of recruiting new board members. At this point, it is important to develop a very intentional interview process before you elect new board members according to the procedures laid out in your governing documents.

Step 4: Evaluating the Board’s Performance

Each director should review their own performance by conducting an annual evaluation.  In this self-assessment, board members should be asked to evaluate themselves as well as their peers and the board’s performance as a whole. A candid and consistent evaluation process helps to ensure the board is truly serving its purpose. Furthermore, the evaluation process can identify and help replace board members that have not lived up to expectations.

Step 5: Casting a Vision

In addition to holding annual performance reviews, the board and the staff should periodically go through a full strategic planning process together, in which they develop and review the organization’s mission, vision, and values. It is crucial that the board and the staff engage in this strategic planning together, in a friendly and cooperative environment.

Step 6: Additional Tip—An Advisory Council

As a stepping-stone for board recruitment, consider creating an advisory council, which is less committal and more ambassadorial than a board. Advisory councils provide a good opportunity to vet potential board members as well as “hook” your target board members.

These tips are broad strokes intended to get the gears turning. All impactful non-profits spend time building an effective board, but remember — board building is nuanced and different for each organization, so be sure to consult a professional to assist you with this essential piece of non-profit governance.

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Photo Credit:  Phillip Harder