What to Look for When Seeking Impactful Board Members

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By F. Duke Haddad

Many nonprofit boards are made up of individuals who are well meaning and want to serve their organization. That said, however, these members lack the correct skills, traits and characteristics needed for long-term success. Each board is made up of areas of focus and committees. There are traits and skills needed by board members to enhance the probability of operational success. If you can recruit board members for their experience and attributes that you need on your board, plus use them wisely, everyone will have an enjoyable experience.

A recent board example dealt with a capital campaign that I am directing. We are in the process of reworking our case for support that includes videos. We asked a specific board member whose background is in the television arena to help us interview individuals for this new case statement. His background, knowledge and ability to teach others what to say and how to say it on video was invaluable to the success of this endeavor. This board member was extremely pleased to help and wanted to do more. We used this board member by relying on his skills and abilities. He is a valuable member of our board marketing and communication program. He so enjoyed the experience because he was giving of himself and his unique talent to our organization.

BoardEffect notes that the structure of the board and committees is important to the overall success of the nonprofit. Most nonprofit boards have few standing committees plus a few ad hoc committees. The primary committees for nonprofit boards are nominating and governance, finance/risk and executive committee. Boards may also form committees for needs such as fundraising, marketing, communications, investment and others as needed. It is imperative that board members who are recruited have the experience, skills, ability and knowledge to play special committee roles. Board members must make an impact on the committees they serve to meet the needs of the overall organization.

BoardEffect also notes that getting the right people with the right skillset on your board is one of the most important decisions that can be made. The board needs to identify what they need and evaluate board recruits on how they can fill these needs. They must evaluate the current board to see if they have the exact skill sets needed to accomplish them. Identification of the type of people or skills that can get the job done is a must. A strong nominations committee and process is needed. It is better to leave a board seat vacant than fill it with someone that cannot make the greatest contribution to the nonprofit. Understand where the board is weak and strong, and where specific board members’ backgrounds can make the most positive contribution.

Capterra underscores the notion that the nominations committee must determine the traits, skills and mindsets the organization and board need as they recruit board candidates. Look for board members that have the following traits: passion about the cause, open-mindedness, taking responsibility for outcomes, forward thinking, respectful of others and willingness to learn. Board members must also have communication skills, fundraising skills, financial management skills, plus teamwork and team management skills. The nominations committee members need to ask specific questions of prospective board members to determine fit, willingness to serve, availability, commitment, what they feel they can bring to the table, passion for the cause and reason for interest in serving.

Bloomerang indicates that board members have a preexisting passion for the cause, eagerness to participate, willingness to prepare for meetings, anxious to serve on committees, propensity to give above average, strong desire for stewardship, willingness to express opinions and strives to learn as much as possible about the organization they represent. Board members that make the greatest difference and impact on an organization have a heart and soul for the organization and lead by example.

Causevox provided seven traits of ideal board members: passion, experience, time, professional skills, attentiveness, toughness and collegiality. You need to build a board that is diverse, flexible, innovative and willing to assist the organization in achieving its mission. Board members must have the experience and desire to make a difference. You must look to the future and think about board skills needed to accomplish this mission. Boards must be dynamic and not static. Committees must be adjusted to meet changing situations and organizational needs.

If you truly care about the nonprofit and want the mission, vision and value to shine through, you need a sound board of directors. The board must be impactful, and this can only happen if you recruit board members with the skills, traits and abilities to meet the needs of the board. If you played sports or participated in an orchestra, you realize the variety of skill sets needed for total harmony and performance. Apply that thought process to your board as you want members that can play a variety of roles while also having strengths in specific needed areas of focus.

Relating to a board, the total board membership should consist of the sum of its parts. Make sure each board member brings to the group a unique set of experience and best of class knowledge from their other board experiences. If they agree to serve on your board for all the right reasons, you will achieve greater success. Building a board with an array of talent takes time and patience. Make each board seat important and fill it only with the right choice. Looking for impactful board members is the first step in this important process.

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