Building an Effective Board of Leaders: A Step-by-Step Guide

Great leadership is essential for every board, but it takes time to develop a strong, effective board. While you can’t instantly create an exceptional board, there is good news – you can cultivate a board that will significantly benefit your organization. In this article, I will guide you through the essential steps to building a high-impact board.

Step 1: Strategic Board Recruitment

Finding future board and committee chairs starts at the beginning of the recruitment process. Who are you looking for? What specific needs does your board have? Are you looking to increase your diversity in terms of race, gender, age, occupation, background, or opinions? Spend some time creating a matrix of the current skills and attributes of your current board to find the areas you are lacking. Craft specific requests to target individuals who align with your organization’s mission. For example, you might want to look for a young accountant with a passion for early childhood education. Keep in mind that board recruitment is an ongoing process, not limited to when terms are expiring.

Where to find potential board members:

  • Engage with current donors or volunteers.
  • Ask program participants or their parents who wish to enhance your services.
  • Network with local professional organizations like the American Marketing Association or HR professionals groups.
  • Utilize your email list to reach a wider audience.

Be creative in your search, and you’ll discover the right individuals to join your board.

Step 2: Thorough Candidate Interviews

Once you have someone interested in joining your board, set up a time to interview them. This is an opportunity for you to learn more about their knowledge and skills, but also for them to understand service on your board. It needs to be a good fit on both sides. Ask about their past fundraising experience, familiarity with your organization, potential connections, and what degree of autonomy they have over their schedule. The expectations for board members should also be covered, including time commitment and donation amounts.

Recruit more people than you have open slots so you can choose the best candidates. Cultivate the others, as they can be good committee members or volunteers.

Recruit more candidates than you have open positions to have a pool of candidates to choose from. The others can become valuable committee members or volunteers.

Step 3: Board Orientation

Once you’ve selected your board members, organize a board orientation to acquaint them with your organization’s operations, programs, and funding sources. Reiterate the expectations to establish a strong board culture. Consider doing part of the orientation with the full board present so they get a review of the organization. Additionally, hold a separate orientation session for the new members so they can feel comfortable asking questions. Be sure to give each new board member relevant materials including bylaws, organizational chart, mission statement, strategic plan, financials, fundraising plan, and a list of core programs. (On-line versions are easiest.)

Step 4: Cultivating Leaders

To transform engaged board members into leaders, reinforce leadership expectations from the initial candidate interviews. Emphasize that every board member should be ready to assume a leadership role, whether as a committee leader or event organizer.

Implement regular leadership training within board meetings, share articles and videos, and promote a culture of continuous learning. Ideally, the entire board should commit to ongoing growth and hold one another accountable. Allow time for the board to collectively discuss the culture they wish to create and set collaborative goals.

Ensure that the entire board is trained in meeting facilitation and volunteer management, as these skills benefit everyone and support each other’s growth.

Gradually increase board members’ responsibilities, starting with smaller projects, such as co-chairing committees or mentoring new board members.

Building a board of leaders takes time and energy. It’s a process that requires planning and preparation, but it will pay off in the years to come when your board is more active and engaged in leading the organization forward. If you’d like assistance with this process, contact me, and let’s talk about how your board can improve.

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