It takes many moving parts to get a Nonprofit Organization up and running (and to keep it running!). Included on this list of integral parts is a Board of Directors. Appointing board members for a nonprofit is a non-negotiable requirement for operation of the organization. Although it is not difficult to assemble a group of bodies, there should be a level of thoughtfulness that goes into the selection process.
How do you decide which individuals should comprise the board of directors? How many members should it include? What qualifications should you be looking out for? Although there is no one right answer to this scenario, there are some key points that should be taken into consideration.
Diverse Backgrounds of Experience
Assembling a diverse group of individuals, with varying degrees of experience, is an important strategy when appointing a board of directors. Members of the board do not need to specialize in the same industry as your nonprofit is operating within. It is more beneficial to seek out members with diverse professional backgrounds, that differ from both you and others involved in the organization. You may want to consider what skills and/or knowledge are lacking and seek out members to round out those areas.
Keep in mind that candidates with managerial expertise, former executives and business gurus who have learned how to grow companies are invaluable, even if they lack knowledge of your specific industry. The same goes for retired legal attorneys, former human resources experts or marketing professionals.
Also consider mixing up the ages of your members. Older members will have more field and life experience, but younger generations will bring a fresh perspective. The world is constantly changing the rules of business. Marketing and fundraising were vastly different 10-15 years ago than they are now. Younger generations will (most likely) have more experience with social media platforms and building an online presence.
Diverse! Diverse! Diverse!
Although boards won’t be meeting everyday (or even every week), it is crucial to fill these spots with members who will work together to achieve a common goal. They must collectively have the best interest of the organization in mind, while also being flexible enough to bend to the opinions of the other members. You don’t want to end up with stale mates during decision making processes and you don’t want to have any members who are so strong minded that they either overpower the collective and/or drive others away.
Teamwork will be especially important when appointing a diverse board (as you should). With many different backgrounds and areas of experience merging together, there will need to be cohesion between varying opinions and ideas.
Vision and Mission Statements
Another key point to keep in mind when compiling your board of directors, is to ensure that members are aligned with the vision and mission statements of your nonprofit organization. Be clear about the role that your board of directors will need to play within the organization and do so up front. Setting board expectations before assembling the actual board, will help to ensure that selected members will be set up to achieve said expectations. This will help to weed out any candidates who may be thinking that sitting on a board is a stagnant position. Incomers will understand that they must be active in aiding the organization to achieve goals and remain aligned with the vision and mission statements.
Quality Over Quantity
Having too many “cooks in the kitchen” is usually not a good thing. Although you don’t want your board to be too small, you also don’t want it to feel too stuffed. Choosing quality members, with professional expertise and a commitment to the organization, is much better than having a larger group with possible dead weight.
Having said that, there is a minimum requirement of board members that nonprofit organizations have to reach. This minimum depends on the corporate law of the state where the nonprofit was incorporated, but the average number is three.
Try staggering the terms of your board members. This way, as seats are turned over and new members are onboarding, it will only happen one member at a time. Experienced members will be able to help new members get acquainted.
A Board of Directors is much like the government of a Nonprofit Organization. They brainstorm ideas, vote on high priority issues and decisions and they should collectively work with the best interests of the organization in mind. The board should contain members of diverse professional backgrounds with varying degrees of skill, whom are capable of effective teamwork and have good ethics.