Recruiting your Board

A Guide to Recruiting Board Members

Building a board is not just about recruiting one great individual, but about finding leaders who have skill sets and perspectives that align with your organization’s values, strategies, goals, and needs. It’s important the board understands and represents its community in the present, but also in the future.

The board as a collective body has the right blend of skill sets, expertise, community connections, diverse perspectives, and spheres of influence across the whole board. Boards who become purpose driven will advance the organization’s work into the future.

Purpose-driven boards make sense of the circumstances causing the need for their organization and are aware of the collective purpose, or reason their organization exists. They are also intentional about hearing from and embracing the community they serve.

Purpose- Driven Board Leadership offers a new way for boards to govern, which invites a new way to recruit new board members.

According to Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices

  • The state of boards today, according to our own sector leaders, are disconnected, ill-informed, lacking in racial and ethnic diversity and preoccupied with fundraising above all else. In fact, 43% of chief executives said they don’t have the right board members to establish trust, and less than a third of boards place a high priority on knowledge of the community served. The vast majority of boards don’t prioritize knowledge of the organization’s work in the field or experience with a similar organization or mission.
  • We are woefully behind in diverse representation with 63.4% of board members being white, and 10% of board members being entirely white.
  • The most exciting change in our new 2024 Leading with Intent data shows that setting strategy is now a higher priority than fundraising, for the first time.

Quick Links:


Create a Board Recruitment Plan

A strong foundation includes having the following essential board recruitment documents:

Many organizations keep all of these materials together in a packet called a Board Recruitment Plan.

Before recruiting new board members, review, revise or create the following:

  • An updated board member job description
    • An up-to-date job description informs prospective board members of their roles and responsibilities.
  •  A board member letter of agreement
    • The letter of agreement, sometimes referred to as board expectations,  helps both new board members and current officers understand exactly what is expected of a each board member.

Providing this information early is an easy way to improve your board recruitment process as it clarifies the expectations and ensures you and the prospective board members are on the same page.

It is also important to have established policies regarding terms, term limits, and conflicts of interest. Be sure to include the process and criteria for re-nomination to the board or for removing a board member, and the board’s role in fundraising. Sample job descriptions, letters of agreement, and policies can be found in The Nonprofit Policy Sampler.

Once you have your policies in place, mapping an organized recruitment process makes it possible to fill vacancies on a board in an effective and speedy manner. It creates a foundation for building a skilled and diverse board long-term. This allows the organization to cultivate potential candidates and prepare them to join the board when the time is right.


Roles and Responsibilities for Board Recruitment

The search for board members is an ongoing collaborative effort by the individual board members, the governance committee, the full board and the chief executive, with the board leading the process, usually through the governance committee.

A well-balanced and effective board depends on the sustained hard work of the governance committee. Its task is to first find the best candidates, share the benefits of serving on your board, and interest them in joining the board. Once their interest in serving on your board is confirmed, present the candidates to the full board and after the final nomination and vote, ensure new board members are well equipped to do the best possible job.

Individual board members may suggest candidates and committee chairs may recommend committee members who are not current board members.

The chief executive can provide valuable assistance working with the governance committee to assess the board’s current needs, identify valuable prospects, and help integrate new board members into their new roles.

While the chief executive has a role to play in board recruitment, they should not handpick board members or exert undue influence in selecting candidates.  It is a clear conflict of interest for a chief executive to select the board members who ultimately assess their performance and determine their compensation. The chief executive should not recommend or nominate individuals with whom they have a personal, business, or family relationship with.  If they have a prior or current relationship with a candidate being considered by the governance committee, the chief executive should clearly disclose it.


Help Board Candidates Find You

In addition to searching for candidates among your networks including your organization’s volunteer network, leaders in your current or, more often, past client community, you may elect to help individuals searching for board service opportunities find you by posting your openings on a job board. Additional options include seeking out new networks, community organizations,  local opportunity boards, affinity groups, and board-matching programs. Find a board posting and matching program in your area.

Craft Your Board Member Posting

For an impactful posting, include the following:

  • A brief description of your organization and its mission
  • The profiles you are looking to fill (skills, areas of expertise, backgrounds, etc., from your board matrix)
  • The board member job description
  • The application process and deadlines (what do they need to submit, how, and by when?)

View a sample board member job posting  

Some organizations invite prospective board members to serve on board committees for a year prior to joining the board, if that is allowed in the organization’s bylaws. It is an excellent way to get to know a candidate and build the bench for future board leadership.


Evaluate Board Candidates

Once you have a list of prospects, you can evaluate how well each one fits your needs.

Before you determine if the candidate is interested in serving on your board, determine if they are new to your leadership or organization. If they are less familiar, a broader conversation with the candidate about the organization itself is a good start. Boards operate as a team and not everyone likes or is good at that type of leadership.

Are they a good candidate for board service? Is there a mutual fit? Is the candidate interested in serving on your board?  Do current board members believe they are right for your board at this time? A meeting can help answer many of these questions. An initial meeting or conversation is a good opportunity for the prospect to learn about the organization, its board, and what is expected of board members.

If you are interviewing a number of potential candidates, consider using a sample candidate rating form that outlines key issues to compare candidate qualifications and develop the final slate.

BoardSource recommends the board chair, the chair of the governance committee, and/or the chief executive meet with the candidates to:

  • Present them with a board member job description and the letter of agreement that new board members are asked to sign and discuss any specific expectations, such as levels of financial contribution and involvement in fundraising or providing professional advice related to board decisions.
  • Ensure they know how often the board meets and what is expected concerning meeting attendance and committee work. Give them a general sense of how much time will be required and provide them with a schedule of board and committee meetings.
  • Ask potential nominees about the other boards they serve and whether they’d be overcommitted if they joined another board.
  • Beware of certain red flags, including candidates who
    • are trying to pad a resume or enhance their position in the community without actually expecting to do much work or who expect to be deferred to because of their celebrity status.
    • bring a personal agenda to the board, such as the music lover bent on making the orchestra play more pop music, the health center patient who is intent on fixing the clinic’s scheduling problems, or the political activist committed to changing the organization’s approach and values.
  • Assuming the interview revealed no negative or worrisome information, before concluding, ask potential candidates if they would be willing to serve if nominated and elected. If a candidate expresses willingness to serve, let the candidate know when you expect the election to take place and how they will be notified of the outcome.

After you have evaluated every candidate, develop a list of those the committee has agreed to recommend for nomination to the board. Even if the committee elects not to move forward with the candidate, continue to engage exciting prospects — maybe they were too busy or didn’t meet the current needs, but they could be valuable board members in the future. Consider asking them to serve on a committee or advisory council. These opportunities will show the prospects that you value their input and will keep them connected to the organization until the time is right for them to be presented for nomination as board members.


Nominate and Elect New Board Members

Bylaws lay out the path for electing new board members and renewing current board members and officers. Occasionally, bylaws will specify that nominations should only occur during an annual meeting.  It is easier to add board members once a year, but circumstances do not always allow that. If there are no specific requirements, prepare the board for a discussion of the candidates by providing all current members with the candidates’ names, bios, and resumes before the board meeting.

Nominees are not invited to the meeting at which they will be considered. They are occasionally invited to a prior board meeting so they can be introduced to the full board. Current members should feel free to raise questions about a nominee or to share recent information that might be relevant. To avoid possible awkwardness, any discussion of nominees should be conducted in executive session prior to the formal election, which is conducted in a regular board meeting, whether by voice vote or by written ballot, with the results recorded in the minutes.

Now that you have your new board members, the next step is to share the good news and schedule the new board members for a board orientation session.


Orient and Develop Your Board Members

Notify the elected board members of the results and schedule them for a board orientation session and, immediately begin investing in their board member development.

Conduct an orientation for all new board members, preferably as a cohort, even when new board members have extensive prior service. Every board has its special characteristics, dynamics, expectations for involvement, and a structure to be communicated.

A thorough orientation is beneficial for many reasons: 

  • It is an initiation to board service and an introduction to the organization, its values, mission, ecosystem, collective purpose and programs.
  • It clarifies time and giving expectations.
  • It provides an opportunity to get to know other board members; and a chance to form an educated foundation for the coming years.
  • It is a chance to speed up the learning curve of new members and get them quickly engaged in the board’s activities.
  • It ensures that every member functions within the same framework and with the same instructions.

Orientation benefits the board as a team by providing an official launch for new partnerships and relationships. To learn more about the different types of formats, participants involved, and effective tools, go to the board orientation resource.

What format should you use for the orientation?
  • The orientation format can vary greatly by organization, lasting from a few hours to an entire day. It can take place in one sitting or over multiple sessions. Your previous conversations with the candidates should inform the type of orientation that will work best.
  • A candidate should walk away from the orientation with a firm understanding of your organizational mission, vision, values, and collective purpose and how they can help advance each. It allows old and new members to get to know each other, covers key organizational issues in detail, and provides time for a question-and-answer session to clarify additional areas of concern or importance.
  • Provide new members with the board handbook or virtual link. A board handbook is usually compiled by staff and is updated regularly to reflect changes in policy and new programs and plans. It includes the history and general description of the organization, all legal documents, plans, financial data, and organizational strategic framework. Other board-related information, such as contact and biographical information for all board members, meeting dates, committee job descriptions, board member responsibilities, bylaws, board policies, and recent meeting minutes, can also be included in the handbook. If you have a board portal with secured access to board members, the most efficient way to present the handbook is to post it online.
  • Have new members sign the letter of agreement verifying that they understand what is expected of them as board members.
Who should participate in the orientation?
  • Naturally, the primary recipients of orientation education are the new board members. All new members should participate.
  • Current board members can participate in orientation as well, whether to function as mentors, represent the committees, make a presentation, or just get to know the new member(s).
    • Existing board members do not have to attend every aspect of the orientation (review the board manual, tour the organization’s facilities, learn how to read a financial statement, or go over the organizational chart). However, it is important for them to attend the sessions pertaining to board roles and responsibilities so they are familiar with the latest trends in nonprofit governance.
    • Existing board members play a critical role in the transfer of knowledge and in setting a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for new board members.
  • The chief executive plays a key role in the orientation. The chief executive is the most knowledgeable about the organization and thus the perfect person to share this information with new board members. The chief executive usually guides the staff to organize the meeting logistics.

New Board Member Development

The orientation process can include a one-year development plan for the new board member, including an appointed or selected mentor and resources, and nonprofit board training around board roles and responsibilities.

Providing a mentor makes the orientation process friendlier and tends to accelerate learning. The mentor is available to answer questions and to guide the newcomer. A mentor can be a new member’s go-to person, answering questions and encouraging participation. A mentoring relationship can be valuable in explaining the history behind controversial board issues or past leadership changes.

To build, grow, and support a viable board mentoring culture: 

  • Establish concrete learning objectives and long-term goals that you can measure and celebrate. If the prospective candidate is well-versed in board leadership, they can share their knowledge and experience.
  • Secure visible support, involvement, and commitment from the highest levels of the board and staff. Involve the governance committee in developing, implementing, and evaluating the program.
  • Determine how you will pair mentors and mentees (this will depend on your goals and learning objectives). Consider involving both staff and board members as mentors. When necessary, be willing to look outside your organization for mentors; for example, your governance committee chair might ask a governance committee chair of organization in your ecosystem to be a mentor.
  • Schedule discussions and updates to gather the board member’s feedback and share your feedback on how things are going.

In addition to providing a mentor, training the new board members in basic roles and responsibilities is helpful. Even new board members who have previously held board positions can benefit from a refresher course on board roles, purpose-driven board leadership, generative governance, conflicts of interest, and financial oversight. If the board member is well versed in basic responsibilities, consider offering more in-depth training around a specific topic, like financial oversight and audits. Providing a new board member with a professional development plan reinforces the organization is commitment to the board and leads to a more willing and engaged board member. View the Additional Resources section below for more information about resources to use in your board development plans.


Additional Resources

For more information about strategic board recruitment, check out these additional resources:

Free Community Resources 

Board Member Training 



You have completed the board recruitment process for now. Board development is an ongoing cycle that includes keeping in touch with promising prospects, re-evaluating board composition and current needs, and orienting and training newly added members.

If you have unanswered questions after reading this resource, take advantage of our members-only Ask-an-Expert e-mail service.