5 Tips for Recruiting Nonprofit Board Members

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By Travelers
5 minutes

Recruiting nonprofit board members can take time, but an effective, engaged board can be highly visible advocates for a nonprofit organization. Through their valuable connections, board members can be key drivers of fundraising efforts, and they often bring to the table a wealth of professional expertise, especially when you recruit board members from a diverse mix of backgrounds.

A group of nonprofit leaders recently shared their nonprofit board recruitment challenges and strategies with Travelers. Here are five tips for recruiting nonprofit board members:

1. Establish Specific Roles

Turnover on boards can be as high as 75% to 100% per term, according to nonprofit leaders.

Frequent turnover can be a sign that board members don’t feel that they are making a specific contribution to the organization or that they are not getting a chance to share their unique talents or perspective. Beyond the additional time it takes to recruit new board members, frequent turnover can lead to lack of continuity and a loss of institutional memory.

“Nonprofits want serving on the board to be a rewarding experience for board members, as well as a benefit to the organization itself,” said Patrick Baker, Nonprofit D&O Product Manager for Travelers. “Being clear about roles and expectations can help board members feel like they are making a valuable contribution to the organization.”

Make a list of specific roles that need to be filled along with a brief description of their responsibilities. Maybe it’s a communications professional to help drive community outreach, or someone with a financial background to help evaluate contracts. Recruiting members to fill those roles and lead subcommittees can lead to more purposeful and effective board governance.

2. Respect Their Time

Board members are often unavailable to commit time to attend training in person, according to nonprofit leaders.

Board members are often eager to help but limited in the amount of hours they can commit. This can translate to a lack of time for training. But training can be crucial to communicating board member duties, building a sense of camaraderie among the board, and for helping to spark new ideas for the organization.

Carefully tailoring training opportunities based on the needs of the organization can help with recruiting and engaging board members, who will then understand that you intend to make the most of their limited time. For example, if you need help approaching donors, consider focusing your training efforts on fundraising development.

What days and times are most convenient for board members? Some boards meet early in the morning, while others meet over dinner or hold an annual retreat. Look beyond traditional formats – can board meetings and training sessions be conducted online or via conference call?

3. Seek Diversity

A diverse board can add both new perspectives and needed skills to an organization, nonprofit leaders say.

Nonprofits often have an informal process for recruiting new members, and prospective board members are often volunteers or others already familiar with the organization. That can mean board members with overlapping connections, experiences and skill sets. It may involve more effort, but recruiting distinct perspectives can help your organization be more relevant to a broader swath of the community.

In recruiting new board members, think of any skills, experience and demographic gaps that may exist within your organization. Ask current board members and staff about the best way to reach potential board members who can fill those gaps.

Cultivating a board with diverse ages, backgrounds and interests can round out your team and provide you with new insights into the communities you serve.

4. Implement Term Limits

Nonprofit leaders report value in having term limits for board members, with the option to vote to renew board members for additional terms.

Having a set term of service gives both the board member and the organization a chance to evaluate if it makes sense to continue serving. What might have been a good fit three or four years ago may no longer be, as both the individual and the organization evolve.

The option to extend a term can give the nonprofit organization the option to retain key board members. For example, if a board member has a rare skill set, it might make sense for him or her to continue to serve an additional term or two. Some organizations appoint a member to serve an additional term as chair before rotating off of the board.

“A defined time period can also make serving a term on the board more appealing to potential members,” Baker said. It gives them a sense of the commitment involved. And term limits make room for new members, who can bring new energy and enthusiasm to the board.

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If the organization is sued and lacks proper protection, board members could lose their savings, their home and other assets.

Patrick Baker

Non-Profit D&O Product Manager for Travelers

5. Make Sure They’re Protected

Nonprofit leaders reported varying levels of awareness about the personal financial risks board members face.

Board members may be putting their personal assets at risk when serving on a nonprofit board. Lawsuits can be brought by donors, vendors, competitors, employees, government regulators and others. As a member of the board, directors can be sued personally. For example, a lawsuit alleging mismanagement could lead to board members having to use their own assets to pay for their legal defense or settlement costs.

Just like in a for-profit company, board members have responsibilities and nonprofits of any size can be affected by lawsuits. Consider getting Nonprofit Directors & Officers Liability Insurance, which is designed to help nonprofit organizations cover defense costs, settlements and judgments arising out of lawsuits and wrongful act allegations brought against the organization.

It’s important to understand the scope of coverage and limits of liability provided by your insurance policy to make sure board members are adequately protected. It is also important to familiarize the board with your nonprofit’s mission and their roles in minimizing exposure to litigation. Having strong governance procedures, along with the proper coverage in place, can go a long way to helping protect your board and your mission.

Recruiting board members for your nonprofit brings the opportunity to develop a valuable team that can help to further your mission as an organization. Check out Travelers’ expertise in nonprofit organizations to learn more about ways to help protect and grow your nonprofit.

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