The art of crafting a great board of directors
Whether you’re a start-up or a seasoned organization, finding quality Board members for your non-profit can be a challenge, especially for “working” Boards. “Working” Boards do just as the term suggests; they work. Board members serve as advisors and establish policy and direction, but unlike advisory Boards, they are expected to help carry the workload as well.
Since expectations and roles on non-profit Boards can vary widely, it’s wise to outline clear job descriptions before recruiting new Board members. That way, there are no surprises or disappointed hopes for either the Board member or the staff. Updating these roles and expectations regularly can help refresh the memories of even your seasoned Board members in regard to what’s expected of them.
Clearly outlined job descriptions can actually help you find people willing to serve. If they know exactly what is expected of them, potential Board members may be more prone to jump in.
Here are some things to consider when writing your job descriptions. The more specific you can be, the better:
- How often will your board meet? When and where are these meetings? How long do they last?
- How long are the Board member terms? (Three years is common with an option to join for another three-year term after that.)
- Are there expectations that Board members will serve on committees as well as attending the Board meetings?
- Are Board members expected to contribute financially? (This is optional. Some non-profits require Board members to donate a minimum amount each year.)
- Is there a faith component to your organization? If so, outline this clearly.
- What are the job-specific expectations pertaining to the different positions on your Board.
Some examples of Board member job descriptions can be found here and here. One of these documents is more formal than the other. Generally, for smaller non-profits, it’s a good idea to keep the language friendly and less daunting.
Most non-profit Boards will have a chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer, and attorney. But don’t forget to consider writing a job description and recruiting people who fit your organization’s specific goals. For example, if you want to reach out to college campuses, you might have a college liaison Board position. If your organization does humanitarian work in Africa, you might consider a Board position for someone who has lived in the area you are serving. Is communications a pressing need? Write a job description for a communications professional. If you can’t find an attorney, accountant or communications person to serve on your Board, you have the option of hiring them as consultants.
And don’t forget the ‘worker bees.’ These hardworking Board members are often the most passionate about your cause and usually make the best Board members, even if they are not willing to take leadership positions.
When asking potential Board members to join you, start with people who have already expressed an interest in your cause or organization. Share information about your organization and don’t hesitate to lay it on thick. Be enthusiastic about what’s happening and how they can be a part of changing lives in a big way. Sell it a little!
Always include the list of job descriptions and ask them how long they need to consider a response; get a specific day/date. Say you’ll follow up on that date with a phone call to see what they’re thinking. Put it on your calendar so you don’t forget. If they are not willing to serve, ask them for recommendations of others who might be a good fit.
There are some skills necessary for establishing a new organization that might not be as crucial later on in your organization’s lifetime. In addition, there are people who LOVE to begin ventures but don’t like the day-to-day. If you’re a start-up non-profit, consider offering some one-year Board positions. This may appeal to people who would love to help get you going but just can’t imagine committing for three years. They can always sign up for a three-year term later if they get hooked!
Finally, don’t get discouraged. What you’re requesting is a lot. You’re asking people to devote a portion of an already busy calendar and to commit to your cause in a deeper way. This can cause some soul-searching and re-evaluation of priorities in the person you’re asking. So be patient (but persistent) and pray that God would move their hearts in the right direction. You really don’t need lackadaisical Board members so if they’re not going to wholeheartedly commit, you’ll all be better off if they say no.
Here’s an article with a long list of things to consider when recruiting Board members for your organization: