How to Find Your Next Great Board Member | npENGAGE

How to Find Your Next Great Board Member

By on Oct 25, 2017

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Chairs in a nonprofit board room

Each board is unique, so its members must be too. The right dynamic between a board and its leadership will ensure the success of the organization, satisfaction of those who drive that success, and realization of your unique and powerful vision.

Who is your dream board member? In my experience, the answer to that question is dependent on the organization.

Quantitative research has shown that board giving has the greatest impact on overall fundraising success. And, based on extensive interviews with board members, we found that their giving is tied directly to their experience on that board. Even though a “good board experience” meant something different to different board members, some common themes were cited by many.

Here’s what board members want:

  • Fellow board members with a solid reputation
  • The opportunity to do meaningful work that directly impacts the community their organization aims to serve
  • The chance to do work with an impassioned, articulate, and engaged CEO behind whom they can rally

But there is another crucial element underneath all of this: the match. Boards are not one-size-fits-all.

Matchmaking

Building a board is not one-size-fits-all

If your organization is supported predominantly through special events, you may be tempted to go after a “big gun” board member. Resist! Board members who really want to spearhead capital campaigns won’t find the satisfaction they’re after if your vision isn’t ambitious enough to hold their interest. They may be very passionate about your cause, but if you can’t offer them a big vision and the opportunity to make that vision a reality, the fit isn’t going to be right.

On the flip side, if your strategic vision is to effect huge transformational change— systemic change rather than project-based goals—someone who’s experienced with annual fund appeals probably isn’t going to be a good match for your board.

Essentially, there are three types of board members, each with his or her own set of preferences for fundraising involvement. Their motivators and their ability and willingness to do the work you need them to do has to match the needs your organization has: needs guided by your organization’s strategic vision.

Modest Maturity Boards: Institutions with a smaller budget and limited programs typically approach funding through annual giving and special events. They enjoy the challenge of organizing and interacting, have outstanding social networks, and are excellent with details. Their giving potential may be modest.

Big Vision Boards: Big vision board members are driven by major gifts and extremely high-end special events. They are well connected to other high-income individuals, local to the community, and have significant cash flow therefore, their ability to give at higher levels is substantial.

Transformational Vision Boards: These very special board members are driven by leadership, and they are giving at the highest levels, including major gifts, special appeals and capital, and planned gifts. They bring significant assets to the table, are well connected to other high net worth individuals, and possess a strong belief in the strategic vision and a deep desire to support the organization.

Vision

Find the right match

If all the above makes it clear that everything revolves around vision, it should make sense that identifying and articulating your vision should be the first thing on your to-do list. We all think we know what our vision is (and some of us even have it laminated on a plaque in our office), but rarely is this vision tied sufficiently to our philanthropic goals. We have lofty aspirations we believe are possible for our organizations, but we don’t translate them into actual strategic plans that then guide the level of fundraising we’re going to need.

Here are a few steps for developing a great strategic vision that will stand the test of time:

  • Make sure the foundation, philanthropy, or development office goals are aligned with the overall institutional vision
  • Involve your current board members directly in the setting of those goals
  • Remember that your goals are the result of where you want to go, not where you are
  • Consider if your current board, structure, and fundraising mechanisms can help you reach those goals

That last bullet leads to my final—and very important—point about finding the right match: recruitment. For example, if you have a history of terrific special events, but your organization’s newly crafted and inspirational vision calls for more transformational fundraising, you’ll likely need to shift focus.

Not only will your activities change, but also those who carry them out will change, too. The match will no longer be appropriate, so some board members will roll off while new, better suited members will join you.

Giving Your Board a Makeover

Talk to your existing board members. Many will be relieved that you’ve asked for their honest opinions. They will either step up and agree to take on more or they will bow out gracefully. Either way, you win.

Research prospects. Just as you would research a donor prospect, know your recruits before you ever meet them. Know where else they have served, their giving history, and the extent of their network.

Embrace your organization’s vision front, back, and side to side. When you seek out new board members, you should be able to articulate your strategic vision and your fundraising goals without skipping a beat.

Don’t pigeonhole. Dream candidates can quickly become empty seats if they’re pressured into taking board positions they don’t really want. This situation often happens when corporations force their executives to join association or nonprofit boards “for the good of the company.” That dynamic is a recipe for disaster if the board member doesn’t believe in the organization’s vision.

The last word comes to us from ancient Greece. Nosce te ipsum. When it comes to creating a vision and a board to match that vision, know thyself. If you’re clear about what you hope to achieve, finding board members who match and raising the dollars needed to make your vision a reality will become second nature.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

June Bradham, CFRE, Blackbaud Healthcare Solutions, uses her experience as a thought leader to refine products and build bridges with healthcare leadership, physicians and development offices across the world. In addition, June is the President and founder of Corporate DevelopMint founded in 1987, an organizational development and fundraising consulting firm having served hundreds of clients since its founding. Under her leadership, Corporate DevelopMint has served over 200 non-profits across the US. International clients from Australia, Turkey, United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. She and the team she leads have directed campaigns of $2 million to over $1 billion. But more importantly, they have succeeded at organizational turnaround resulting in a shared view of philanthropy.

Recognized for her expertise in strategic planning, innovative fundraising and board dynamics, June is an internationally sought after speaker whose recent engagements have included plenary and keynote addresses at such prestigious conferences as AFP – International, AHP, CASE, CASE Europe and Blackbaud’s Conference for Nonprofits. In addition to the numerous articles in national publications she contributes to each year, June was the author of a monthly column for the Charleston Regional Business Journal and was named the Journal’s “Most Influential Woman CEO” and was their recent keynote speaker. June’s groundbreaking and insightful book on board dynamics, The Truth about What Nonprofit Boards Want: The Nine Little Things that Matter Most, was published by Wiley and is fast becoming one the industry’s most talked about books.

June and her team have worked with Higher Education, Independent Schools, Healthcare Systems and Community Organizations.

June’s deep commitment to the growth and success of non-profit organizations is underscored by her years of volunteer experience, including service to a number of healthcare and education boards, community organization boards like the Spoleto Festival and the Community Foundation as well as Chambers of Commerce and boards of industry associations. She is the past president of the board of the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations as well as AFP – International and the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, a top ranked business school.  Her most recent interest in pro-bono work among professionals and companies is evidenced in being selected to join the International Board of CreateAthon™ known for serving nonprofits through pro bono professional work. She joins fellow board members from companies such as BMW, Hewlett Packard, Netscape and others showing her ability to stay in front of the curve of trends.

June holds a Bachelors degree from Columbia College and a CFRE and has completed the Harvard University Governance Education program in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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