Boards of directors, regents, trustees, governors…all of these refer to the governing body of a nonprofit organization. “The Board” is the single most important entity of any nonprofit organization. It is legally, ethically and socially responsible for stewardship of the organization. A board must be comprised of committed individuals who fully understand their roles and obligations and act as a cohesive group to govern and lead the organization to achieve its mission. In recruiting the board and establishing good working relations, nonprofits will want to follow some basic rules.
First, the organization should include members with the needed skills, experiences and abilities to help the organization realize its mission. An organization must identify the skills of the current board, as well as any weaknesses. When recruiting new board members, the organization should look for those who fill a need or a gap in skills. Strong recruits often include people who bring specific skills with them; for example, those who have raised funds, either as a professional or as a volunteer with other organizations.
Those in sales usually know how to make a pitch and are comfortable asking for money. Those in public relations, marketing or advertising can help an organization promote its cause or mission. An attorney, especially one who specializes in estate planning, is important to assist an established nonprofit get to the level of receiving planned gifts. Also important are accountants, bankers and others familiar with finance and investments. A strong board will have members with both influence and affluence.
Second, the organization should set criteria for board members’ recruitment. An organization should follow a recruitment process with clear criteria, focused on the future needs of the organization. Before asking recruits, the organization should know what it expects in terms of time, talents and treasure.
Third, organizations should be honest and realistic with prospective board members. Make sure you have a list of board responsibilities, including fundraising. You should meet with the prospective board member and review the list, and make sure he/she knows what is expected, which usually includes asking others to contribute.
Fourth, organizations should strive for diversity. Its leaders should make sure to discuss and understand the value of diversity, as well as determining the types of diversity needed to accurately reflect the community it serves. (For those of us at Illinois Central College, diversity includes members who have attended a community college as well as representatives from the larger cities within our broad-based district.)
Fifth, organizations should have term limits to enable a board to bring in new members with new skills.
Finally, organizations should invest the time to orient new members. A binder with past minutes, the organization’s mission, a copy of board responsibilities, etc. will help get the new board member up to speed. If the nonprofit board is to do fundraising, as most are, they should be armed with the information needed to feel comfortable about advocating as well as fundraising for the organization.
Board members should never think personal solicitation means going in on bended knee to beg for money—it is not. It means giving people an opportunity to invest their philanthropic dollars into an organization that makes a difference in that community.
It is not unusual for board members to fear fundraising—this is natural until the board has been properly oriented. Staff should never relieve the board of their fundraising duties. If they do, significant gifts are not realized because those who can get the gifts aren’t doing the asking.
Why is it important for the board member to “make the ask?” It is always more effective when done by an unpaid individual. The prospective donor knows the board member is taking time out of his/her busy schedule to support the organization. Prospective donors often appreciate talking with board members because they ultimately have authority over the organization. Finally, board members voluntarily make the ask and have already contributed to the organization. While rarely asked for the amount, it is not at all unusual for the prospect to ask the board member if he/she has made a gift. Prospects often see board members as people just like themselves and are willing to trust their judgment.
Besides fundraising, board members should be included in other activities. They are an extension of the organization and should be used as advisors and representatives to the community. Their expertise is vital to standing committees, as well as ad hoc committees.
Nonprofit organizations are essential to the strength of our communities. Their success is often determined by the commitment, skills and, especially, the enthusiasm of the board. When board members are chosen based on the above guidelines, they not only help the nonprofit to be successful in fundraising; perhaps more importantly, board members will realize the heartfelt satisfaction of being part of making a difference in the lives of those served by the nonprofit. And that kind of satisfaction, enthusiasm and loyalty is something money just can’t buy. iBi