Connect with the Nonprofit Board

Each organization handles its board recruitment a little differently, but, in general, there are three basic steps to the recruitment process:

  1. Express interest

  2. Interview

  3. Evaluate the fit

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The Board Recruitment Center was developed with generous support from the Deerbrook Charitable Trust.

Express interest

In general, the recruitment process begins when a candidate expresses interest in a position. This can occur through a formal outreach program or by responding to a board recruitment posting, like you can find on LinkedIn or other board or job posting sites.

Alternatively, if the organization that interests you does not have a formal outreach program or any open board postings, then you can be proactive and contact it directly to express your interest.

Prior to reaching out, you should understand that some organizations prefer to have prospective board members serve on a committee first. This is a great opportunity for you to evaluate the culture of the board, and it allows the organization to assess your commitment and passion for the mission.

Whether you follow a formal outreach process or contact the organization directly, these tips will help you establish your credibility as a candidate:
  • Be familiar with the organization, its activities, and its challenges.
  • Be proactive, ask questions, and answer questions thoroughly.
  • Be prepared to articulate how your skills and leadership experiences can benefit the board and organization.

Interview

The interview process is the most critical step in the recruiting process. This is the opportunity for

  • you to understand what is expected of you as a board member
  • the board to understand how your skills, talents, experiences, and perspectives will enhance the board’s ability to advance the mission of the organization

You should prepare questions to ask and be prepared to answer many questions about you. You want to be part of an organization with a well-planned process that treats recruitment as a two-way street. View our free resources to spark ideas about the questions you should ask and prepare you for the questions you may be asked.

Both parties should get what they are looking for. Being willing and able is not enough. You must fill a need on the board at a given moment. You may bring marketing acumen to the mix at just the right time, for example, or the board may be trying to fill a gap in financial expertise.

Effective boards combine various skills, talents, backgrounds, and perspectives, and they often use a matrix of their present composition and future needs as a recruitment tool.

Even more important, you should leave these conversations with a firm understanding of what is expected of you as a board member and of what the organization’s current challenges and opportunities are. Use this information to evaluate whether joining this board at this time is the right fit for you and for the organization.

Evaluate the fit

Only you can determine if a board service opportunity is the right one for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you consider a specific board opportunity:

  • Am I excited about this organization and the work that it does? Is this a cause or mission that I want to dedicate my time, energy, and money to support and lead?
  • Can I have a positive impact? Is there an opportunity for me to make a difference in this organization? Can I help propel this organization forward with my expertise and connections?
  • Do I feel comfortable with the overall health of the organization? Do I know what the challenges and opportunities are, and am I comfortable with the level of risk that I will be assuming as a part of my legal responsibility as a board member?
  • Do I like and trust the people who are affiliated with the organization? Do I want to spend time working with these people? Do I think I can work well with them and be a positive part of the board’s culture?
  • Am I comfortable with the financial and time commitments necessary to serve on this board? Am I comfortable with all elements outlined in the board member job description?

We developed a form titled Evaluating the Fit of a Board Service Opportunity to help you evaluate whether serving on this board is the right fit for you.

When to say “no” to an opportunity

In an ideal world, you would be confident about joining a board after you had asked questions and gathered data ahead of time. But sometimes, even after diligent preparation, you may hesitate or have second thoughts. You might learn that there is a considerable budget deficit, for example, or that there is a problem with the executive leadership. Or you might not feel as excited about the organization as you thought you would. Always trust your instincts, and decline the invitation if you have concerns or if the match just does not feel right.

Reasons for deciding not to join a board might include the following:

  • Financial concerns

    Financial concerns are a key reason for reconsidering. Some people have a special interest in guiding struggling organizations or companies through difficulties. But others look for different incentives. They do not necessarily want to assume the responsibility or spend their time reacting to financial difficulties.

    • To assess the seriousness of financial issues, it’s important to study them closely. Consider deficits, for example. If the annual report indicates that the organization has a sizable deficit, find out why. Deficits can happen for many reasons. An organization may make a deliberate decision to incur a temporary deficit — to take advantage of a special opportunity, start a new program or service, or compensate for an exceptional delay in receiving a pledge. Or the board might approve a temporary deficit to lead the organization through a tough phase. Talk to someone who serves on the board’s governance committee and find out what the cause for the deficit is.
    • If it seems that the organization is indeed struggling financially, additional information can help you make up your mind. You may feel strongly about making this organization succeed, and you may feel that you have the acumen and interest to guide it through difficulties.
    • Please review our free FAQ on financial and fundraising issues that board members need to understand.
  • Mission connection

    You decide that you are not interested in the mission. It is difficult to get excited and connected if an organization is working with issues that are not very important to you or that you don’t believe in.

  • Time commitment

    You realize that you do not have time to take on a lot of additional responsibilities. You may be involved with family, work, neighborhood, and your social life, or you may already volunteer and serve on other boards.

  • Lack of information

    It is difficult to receive adequate information about the organization, the board, and what is expected of you. You are not getting convincing answers or no one is willing to take the time to explore your concerns. If you get bad customer service at this level, you probably are right to hesitate to get involved.

  • Board member responsibilities

    You don’t feel comfortable with the board’s expectations for fundraising and personal contributions. Before you rule out board service based on this concern, ask a few more questions. Can board members decide on a giving level based on their personal means? Does the board provide tools and mentoring to help less experienced members feel more comfortable with fundraising?

  • Liability insurance

    The board does not have directors’ and officers’ liability insurance. Weigh the options and the need for the policy. Ask governance committee members if it is possible to acquire a policy. Some potential board members refuse to serve on a board without adequate coverage. For more information, review our member resource, Why is D&O Insurance Important?

  • Management

    The organization does not seem well managed. When you visit the organization, you notice a lack of professionalism, poor customer service, and unenthusiastic staff. The website, publications, and other informational materials are not high quality.

When you give the board your final answer, be honest about why you are declining the invitation. Explain your reasons for saying no. The board should be grateful for your openness.

Your information may help the board with future recruitment and prompt it to look for candidates who are willing and likely to take on the responsibilities. The board may also learn that it must be forthcoming with future prospects about the state of the organization.

In addition to being willing to say no to a board service opportunity, it is important to accept a no from the organization as well.

Always accept “no” for an answer

Every board that interests you may not have the same feelings for you. Remember that board service is a two-way street. A good match meets the priorities of both sides. It also may be possible that you’re not the best match given the board’s current needs, but you might be a good choice later. Just because a specific board service opportunity seems like the right fit for you does not mean it will be the right fit for the organization. It’s critical that organizations and individuals are honest about what they both are looking for and need.

If this particular organization isn’t currently looking for someone with your experience and background, that’s OK. Leave the door open with the organization, and don’t give up. There are always other organizations that could benefit from your service.

Additional Resources

For more information about serving on a board, check out these additional resources: