Board Composition and Recruitment

Board members often have long tenures, and your board has tremendous responsibility and decision-making power. As such, it’s critical to the success of your organization to have the right composition of board leaders. Which candidate skills and characteristics could your board benefit from as it navigates your organization’s challenges in the next three to five years? Consider your ideal mix of professional skills, resources, backgrounds and experience, demographics, and community connections.

Before recruiting, determine the skills and expertise on your current board and what’s missing. Download a strategic board composition matrix to map your current board to help you get started.

Considering needs before recruitment invites the opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion of whether the board reflects the diversity of the community it serves. If the board does not, it presents an opportunity to be more intentional about who your organization is and what it values.

Creating a Diverse Board

Always keep in mind the value of diversity in establishing your “ideal” board composition and identifying any gaps. Diversity on a board ensures varying opinions, approaches, attitudes, and solutions. Diverse teams make better decisions. The goal is to create a board culture that is open-minded, curious, accepting, and responsive. Fill your board with board members willing to work together to advance the organization’s mission, vision, and collective purpose.

BoardSource recommends caution with a “checklist” approach to board recruitment, especially when it comes to board diversity, as this can reduce a candidate to a demographic profile. Consider recruiting and retaining multi-faceted leaders and a diverse board. A homogeneous board has impaired decision-making and planning abilities. One race or gender predominating a board is particularly concerning, as the board may select strategies and plans that ineffectively address social issues and injustices or even reinforce them.

How to Recruit the Ideal Board Composition

According to Leading with Intent, the most successful boards are thoughtfully composed regarding skill sets, leadership styles, and diversity of experience, thought, and background. They understand the leadership needs of their organizations and seek out new board leaders who can bring the expertise, passion, and experience they need both now and into the future.

If your organization has staff, be cautious not to establish a board that mimics or duplicates the work of staff. The board’s work is strategy, oversight, and ensuring resources, hopefully by utilizing all the modes of governance and a purpose-driven framework. 

 

There are many attributes that are appropriate to virtually all governing boards. Examples include

  • a commitment to the organization
  • lived experience
  • a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion or racial equity

 

Other attributes to consider may include

  • professional skills
  • philanthropic spirit
  • representation of communities you serve
  • experience with similarly sized organizations

 

Finally, the organization may look at unique qualities including geographical representation and affiliations with other organizations relevant to the organization’s mission. The board’s membership composition matters for multiple reasons, one of which is to be received as a responsible and civic-minded enterprise serving all the people in its community.

There is no fixed formula for determining board composition. The board size and composition usually reflect the work it is trying to accomplish in service to its goals. As outlined in Purpose- Driven Board Leadership, a nonprofit board’s ability to help an organization reach its goals depends entirely on who is on the board, what they understand their role to be, and how they prioritize decisions. Each organization can evaluate its unique needs and priorities and build its board accordingly.

Are there certain types of candidates who may present challenges?

Some types of candidates may add value to your board, while others may have conflicts of interest that can make board leadership more challenging.

Here are some examples:

  • a customer or current client
  • a major donor or other prominent constituent
  • a celebrity
  • a family member of a staff member or other board member
  • a board member who is under 18 years of age

 

Visit the Board Recruitment Center for more resources.

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All 101-level topical resources listed below are available publicly. BoardSource members have access to 101, 201, and 301- level resources. Don’t forget to visit the BoardSource store or the Board Recruitment Center for more resources and training on this topic.

Beyond Political Correctness: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Board

101| Community resource. Exceptional nonprofit boards recognize that diversity is essential to an organization’s success. They see the correlation between mission, strategy, and board composition and understand that establishing an inclusive organization starts with establishing a diverse and inclusive board.

Board Members as Providers of Professional Services

201| Members only resource. Should technical specialty be a necessary criterion for board service? In all-volunteer organizations, professional skills are particularly helpful. However, experts and representatives of specific fields can find themselves in a difficult position of trying to define their role as an active and contributing board member while being expected to perform professional services for the organization.

Board Recruitment Process

101| Community resource. Having an organized board recruitment process in place not only makes it possible to fill vacancies on a board in an effective and speedy manner, but it creates a foundation for building a skillful and diverse board. It allows the organization to cultivate potential candidates and to prepare them to join the board when the time is right.

Board Size: Finding the Sweet Spot

101 | Community resource. Wondering if your board has hit its sweet spot when it comes to size? This resource is designed to help you answer this question.

Building a Nonprofit Board for the First Time

101| Community resource. After determining that there is no other organization to partner with, the first challenge for a founder of a new nonprofit organization is to build a board. This is not a simple task, and involves more than just finding a group of dedicated people.

Clients on a Nonprofit Board

201| Members only resource. It is natural for those receiving services from a nonprofit — or their family members — to want to serve on the board both to give back and to influence how the organization functions. There hardly is a more direct way to shape the focus of the organization. There is also no better way for the organization to ensure representation and voice of the community you serve.

How to Involve Former Board Members

201| Members only resource. Many boards struggle when a valuable board member’s term is up and it seems a waste to let them fade into the distance. The board member’s experience and insight could still benefit the organization but the bylaws don’t include a structured way to make this happen. Here are some ideas for showing appreciation for former board members’ service.

Joining a Nonprofit Board

101| Community resource. People have countless reasons for wanting to become nonprofit board members. Most individuals have well-informed, honorable intentions, and with guidance, they have the potential to have fulfilling board experiences. But occasionally, motivations are misinformed, wholly self-serving, or simply not constructive.

Need for Legal Assistance

201| Members only resource. Numerous nonprofit boards find it highly desirable to recruit lawyers as board members. The expected role of the attorney is to keep the board aware of and in compliance with all the legal requirements that may affect its members as fiduciaries of the organization.

Nepotism and Boards

201| Members-only resource. Nepotism — the practice of showing favoritism toward relatives — usually falls under the purview of management when hiring practices come under scrutiny and supervisory relationships are challenged. Governance can also become a victim of nepotism when family members or close relatives work or serve together.

Questions to Ask Before Joining a Board

101| Community resource. If you are considering board service, do your due diligence. Learn as much as you can about the organization beforehand. Ask questions about the following.

Reimagining Boards for High Impact

101| Community resource. What if leaders could grow their impact without growing their organizations? Read six primary areas where boards can focus their energy to strengthen community relationships and dramatically increase their impact.

Removing a Board Member

201| Members only resource. Managing difficult board members is one of the board chair’s toughest tasks. Differences of opinion are common but that is not a reason for removing a board member. However, a board member who is not able to fulfill his or her individual responsibilities, who does not abide by the rules set by the board, or who displays illegal and unethical behavior does not belong in the boardroom.

Sample Board Member Job Description

101| Community resource. As the highest leadership body of the organization and to satisfy its fiduciary duties, the board is responsible for the following.

Sample Board Member Job Posting (Advocacy Expertise)

101| Community resource. This sample is intended to provide you with a template for developing your board postings and is designed for use with LinkedIn Board Connect. Please customize it to meet your needs.

Transitioning from Working Board to Governing Board

201| Members only resource. If an organization grows as hoped and planned for, a “working board” will eventually reach a point when it’s time to transfer the organization’s management, administration, and operations to staff and staff-led volunteers.

Youth Board Service

201| Members only resource. More and more boards are dedicating time and effort to create youth partnerships. They are finding the youth perspective to be helpful, enlightening, and an asset. There are also some challenges for making it work. There are benefits and challenges of youth board service. For the purposes of this paper, youth, young people or minors are defined as age 18 and under.