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Why that Candidate?

When one board candidate was asked why he should be on a certain nonprofit’s board, his response was, “Why not?” Nonprofit board membership should never be an entitlement. It should be something that both sides take seriously and carefully consider.

Sometimes when we ask a nonprofit executive or board member why a specific person is on the board, we are told, “We needed someone to fill the position. It is hard to find people willing to serve on the board and they were willing to serve.” Qualitatively, that seems like the same answer as, “Why not?”.

Both sides should make the selection process rigorous. The board should determine the right mix of skills, experience, and balance between short-term and long-term thinking. The candidate should demand to know the expectations, obligations, and commitments they must fulfill.

The staff, donors, and other stakeholders need to know that each board member is there because they are motivated to do the best job they can and they meet or exceed the board’s minimum standards. The staff members are staking their careers and the financial well being of their families on the quality of the board. The donors are giving based on the assumption that the board members are able to deliver on the promises the fundraising team made.

Next Step:

Require your board development committee to use a rigorous candidate selection process

Ensure your board members are interested in joining for the right reasons

Require your board development committee to annually evaluate board performance and the performance of each board member

Hold your board development committee accountable for the quality of your board  

Use the lack of willing and qualified candidates as an indication that your nonprofit’s performance must improve

In almost every community, the best nonprofits attract highly qualified board members and always have full boards. When a nonprofit is unable to fill its board, it is an indicator that the  nonprofit is experiencing problems. It also indicates that more talent is needed on the board to help it increase sustainability and thrive. The nonprofit’s struggles indicate a need for higher standards for board membership. It also probably indicates that one or more of the current board members should be thanked for their services and replaced.

It is sometime hard to find the talent you need. It is especially hard to attract talent when your nonprofit is struggling and needs help increasing its sustainability. Asking someone to join the board under those circumstances is asking them to make a significant contribution of time and talent. Your best option is to speak with everyone about your needs. Someone will guide you to the right person. The right person cares so much about your mission, clients, and making your community stronger that they will commit the time to helping you. If your selection criteria are appropriate, new members will have the passion and skills to inspire all of your stakeholders to reach a little higher, which is just what you need to go from struggling to thriving.

The work it takes to find the right board member is worth it. Besides, you would want the board to be the best possible if your career and family’s financial well being depended on it. Your generosity as a donor depends on your confidence that the board has the capacity and commitment to fulfill your expectations. In short, who is on your board is very important to your stakeholders, mission, and the value of your nonprofit to your community.

Ensure your board is filled with the right people rather than those who are simply willing to serve.

Take It Further:

Use your best board members to help you recruit new board members

Ensure that each new board member raises the bar (better talent fit, more passion, higher level of commitment, more generous, etc. than the average board member)

Ensure every new board member will delight your stakeholders

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