Your Best Board Member Candidates Might Be Close at Hand

Board recruitment is one of the most important and challenging aspects of nonprofit work. Unfortunately, many nonprofits maximize their risks and minimize their opportunities because they look at it as an annual task rather than the ongoing leadership development process it should be. If your organization engages volunteers in your program delivery, events, or fundraising, it may be that your next—and possibly best—board member is close at hand.

Consider these suggestions for unearthing and developing the “hidden gems” among your volunteer ranks:

Get as much information about your volunteers as you can

Nonprofits may not even be aware of all of the assets they have at their disposal, so make sure you’re capturing as much information as you can about people who volunteer for you, as their professional skill-sets and affiliations can match identified board needs. When the board recruitment process starts, use this internal resource to see if anyone already involved with the organization can fill an identified gap, as you’ll get a stronger commitment from someone who is already contributing to your cause than from someone who knows nothing about your work.

Involve your volunteers in other aspects of your nonprofit’s work

Since nonprofits often silo their work, hidden assets can remain hidden because they’re not invited to participate in other aspects of the organization’s work. Your volunteers care deeply about what you do and have demonstrated their commitment through their service. Ask your program staff who their stars are and why, and consider whether there are other opportunities to further involve the best of these in other areas of the organization’s work. They can be invaluable resources on the board or with committee work, where they can develop their potential as future organizational leaders.

Board experience is not essential

Boards spend too much time discussing the recruitment of “community leaders” with board experience and connections with a belief that these folks will transform their board. In reality, while prior board experience is useful, in many cases these “community leaders” are already over-committed and don’t have the time to make a full commitment to your organization. Don’t forget that people who care about what you do and are willing to learn about board work through attending seminars, reading, or just plain on the job training can ultimately prove to be your most effective board leaders.

Nurture the leadership skills of your emerging leaders

Pay special attention to nurturing the leadership skills of those who are most passionate about your mission, at all levels of the organization. Your hidden gems are often people who are humble and service oriented and who don’t necessarily see themselves as leaders, so give them opportunities to lead, recognize their efforts, and help build confidence in their leadership abilities. When you bring them on the board, assign them an experienced “board mentor” to help them understand the context and dynamics of the board and give them the support they need to develop them as leaders.

Effective board development is simply a by-product of a culture of leadership development, where assets at all levels of the organization are identified, recognized and nurtured. With competition for resources and board leaders increasing, nonprofits that invest time and energy in developing the leadership skills of their most passionate advocates will ultimately create better opportunities to impact their community missions than those that don’t.

This blog post, written by Starboard consultant Scott Schnapp, is an example of the kind of free advice you can find in the blog section of our Starboard website: If you would like to get in touch with Scott, or any member of our consulting team, please use the contact form to reach us today.