Cultivating Your Next Board Leaders

Every board needs great leaders, but it takes time to build up a strong board. The best advice I can give you is that you can’t instantly have a good board, as discouraging as that sounds. The good news is that you can develop a board who will make a real difference for your organization.  Here are the steps:

Step 1: 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. Then create specific requests, so instead of just looking for anyone willing to join your board, look for a young accountant with a passion for early childhood education, for example. That will let you come up with better ideas of who to ask. And remember, you don’t have to search for board members only when terms are up, this is a year-round process to find great people.

Where can you look for board members? Lots of places! How about talking to your current donors or volunteers? Look for program participants (or parents) who would like to improve your services. Talk with local professional organizations, such as a chapter of the American Marketing Association, or a local HR professionals group if you need a specific area of expertise. Send a note out to your email list. Be creative and you’ll find the right people.

Step 2: Candidate Interviews

Once you have someone interested in joining your board, set up a time to interview them. You can start by talking about your organization and the board, but you want to keep the focus on them and their knowledge and capabilities, so you can see if they are a good fit. Ask about their past fundraising experience, what they know about your organization, who they would be willing to connect your organization to, and what degree of autonomy they have over their schedule. This is your chance to assess if they will be a good fit on your board. 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.

Step 3: Board Orientation

Once you have selected board members, have them attend a board orientation, in which you cover all aspects of being a board member with your organization. This includes details about how the organization operates, its programs and funding sources. Talk about the expectations again, as creating a strong culture up front is important. You might consider doing part of the orientation with the full board present so they get a review of the organization, but it is also good to hold an orientation session for just the new members so they can feel comfortable asking questions. Be sure to give each new board member a packet of relevant materials including bylaws, mission statement, strategic plan, financials, fundraising plan and a list of core programs.

Other areas to particularly cover include the organization’s finances, and the primary sources of income, and the role of the board in interacting with staff.

Step 4: Cultivating Leaders

To turn these new engaged board members into leaders, start back at the candidate interviews. Talk about the expectation that all board members will take on a leadership role. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will be board chair, but that they may lead a committee or organize an event.

Then, start training board members as leaders. Incorporate regular trainings in each board meeting, send out articles and videos to watch, and create a learning culture. Ideally, the board as a whole will commit to learning more and hold each other accountable, but that will take time to build up. Be sure to make time for the board to talk together about the culture they want to create and to set collaborative goals.

Make sure the full board has training on facilitating meetings and managing volunteers. Everyone will benefit from these skills being improved, and they can help each other develop further.

Give board members increasing responsibility so both you and they can see what they are capable of doing. This might start out with small projects, such as co-chairing a committee or mentoring a new board member, and move on from there.

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. Need help with this process? Contact me and let’s talk about how your board can improve.

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