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Creating the Ideal Board Member

These are the minimum requirements for nonprofit board membership:

An engaged donor

Has been a donor for a few years

Has a history of increasing generosity

Is involved in your nonprofit beyond making gifts and attending events

An effective leader

Has a history of accomplishments

Has a personal long-term plan

Has a history of giving back to the community

Passionate about your mission

Financially literate

The list describes the minimum requirements for board membership. Beyond that are the specialty requirements (educators, parents, past clients, medical personnel, lawyers, or other specialities or backgrounds) for those serving on the finance committee, program committee, fundraising committee, etc. You may also have other qualifications (religious affiliation for instance) because of your mission or the needs of your clients.

Some nonprofits are tempted to recruit specialist to the board in preparation for a lengthy, high-value project. It is better to create a special committee to oversee the project and ensure the committee has the experts you need to advise the board. The specialist will be more effective if they are unburdened by the other responsibilities of the board. When the project ends if the expertise is still needed, one or more of the committee members can be recruited to serve on the board. In addition, it is unnecessary for the members of the special committee to be qualified to serve on the board.

It is tempting to accept a wonderful candidate that is just one or two qualifications short of the minimum, especially if the candidate has the specialized skills you need. When the candidate is a high-value donor, the temptation is even greater. However, when you lower your standards, you send a message to donors, clients, and your community that quality is negotiable. Non-negotiable quality is what attracts donors, community support, maximizes your mission’s value to your clients, and increases the sustainability of your nonprofit.

Instead of lowering your standards, recruit the almost-perfect candidate to serve on one of your board committees as a non-member. The candidate will have the opportunity to become qualified while still contributing to your nonprofit’s success. When the candidate is qualified, you will have new board member who is able to provide high-quality contributions immediately and without additional training. In short, the delay in membership will provide significant benefits without any cost and it will probably increase the quality of your board’s performance.

Next Step:

Create minimum standards for board membership and commit to only recruiting candidates who exceed the minimum

Use board committee and special committee membership as a way to train future board members

Use your board development committee to establish the membership standards and train members and others to be board members

Hold the board development committee responsible for the performance and engagement of board members

Notice that ‘prior nonprofit board service’ is missing from the list above. Since most nonprofits place a higher emphasis on having a certain number of members rather than on the quality of members, many nonprofit board members are ill-prepared for board service. Your board needs to have a training program for all new board members and an ongoing education program for current board members.

The ideal board candidate is easier to develop than find, which is the best reason for recruiting volunteers to serve on your board and special committees. You will have a high-performance board whose decisions will consistently increase the sustainability of your nonprofit and the relevance and value of your mission.

Take It Further:

Ask board members to recruit their successors

Develop a formal board-orientation program for new board members

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