Time, Talent, and Treasure: Building a Board that Knows and Gives the Three Ts
By Whitney Brimfield on March 14, 2016
Engaging thoughtful, proactive, and generous people to serve on your organization’s board is a challenging and important endeavor. Board service is often seen as the pinnacle of volunteerism, and is critical to an organization’s success. Good board members often seem elusive. The secret is that you probably already know your best potential board members, as they are more often than not your most active “on-the-ground” volunteers. Below are a few tips for finding and keeping great board members.
- Know who you need on your board -- Think about the kinds of expertise and networks that you want represented on your board. For example, if your organization is focused on a particular disease or on a specific community, then you will want representatives on the board who are from that population. If you are planning to buy a building in the next year, then you will want a commercial realtor on your board. If you need to raise money from wealthy individuals, then you should have people of wealth on your board who are willing to open their social networks to the organization. You should also strive for diversity in age, race/ethnicity, gender, and ability. Brainstorm a list of these and track where you already have representation. Here’s a comprehensive example spreadsheet. (credit to Shorthand Consulting).
- Build a board recruitment pipeline -- You should keep track of each current member’s term and when it expires. Each year you should be thinking about who will be cycling off of the board in the following year and how that person can be replaced. The governance committee of the board should manage this process in close consultation with the Executive Director. Think of individuals you want to target based on the assessment you’ve done in step one. Here’s a hint -- start with the people who are most connected to your organization who are not currently on the board (i.e. clients, donors, volunteers). Also, aim high when it seems appropriate. Has the mayor of your town recently engaged with your issue on a personal level? Why not meet with her and see if she might be interested in joining? Or at least suggesting someone. The governance committee chair should lead the board in being advocates for board service. Board members should always be looking to connect with potential new board members. It is important to cultivate this culture in your organization.
- Ask people to meet with you -- Once you’ve identified people who seem like good board candidates, meet with them! Tell them about the organization, or if they are already involved, talk to them about the opportunity to get more involved by joining the board. You should have a board job description you can share that outlines the commitments required -- time, talent, and treasure -- and gives prospective board members a true picture of what it would mean to commit. The first contact should be from a board member (or the ED if that’s where the relationship lies) and can be a casual “get to know you” meeting over coffee or lunch. If the prospect expresses interest, then they should meet with others, including the ED. Just like any hiring process, the candidate should be aware of next steps and timelines from the beginning. Here’s a sample board job description for reference. (Credit to Bridgespan).
Whitney Brimfield is the owner and principal of Spark Point Fundraising, an independent fundraising firm that helps organizations develop the most effective strategies to connect with and engage investors. Whitney has more than 18 years of experience in fundraising, business development, and social enterprise at the local, state, and national level. She has worked on a variety of issues, including public health, education, health policy, youth development, the environment, and the arts, raising millions of dollars for numerous causes. Learn more about Spark Point Fundraising at www.spark-point.com.