How to Avoid Adding Ineffective Members to Your Board

A great board of directors can make all the difference between a successful nonprofit and one that cannot get the funding, participation or staff that it needs. The board is the face of the organization, responsible for its success and growth. With such responsibilities, it is imperative that a nonprofit board is made up of members that can work together towards a common goal while maintaining focus on its mission.

Creating an engaged and strategic board can be a challenge. Before recruiting new members, determine the characteristics and professional qualifications that fit the needs of the organization. Then recruit strategically keeping the following guidelines in mind:

Set Expectations

In order to truly evaluate the effectiveness of board members, decide and document what is expected of them before asking them to join, and then clearly communicate this to each prospective member. These expectations should address

  • how much participation is expected of each member
  • what information all board members need to know
  • when and how meetings will be scheduled
  • what each member’s duties are
  • what type of committee work is expected of each board member
  • whether a financial contribution is expected

For some groups, board members may be expected to adhere to a set of behavioral or moral standards. Set expectations that fit your organization.

Recruit Members

Once the overall expectations of your board members have been decided, determine what roles need to be filled. When recruiting for these roles, there’s so much more to consider over and above the particular skill or expertise needed.

  • First and foremost, does each potential member have a passion for the mission? If they do not believe in the organization and what it stands for, they will not be strategic partners in the long run.
  • Do they have professional knowledge and the willingness to share that knowledge to strengthen the team?
  • Do they have influence and/or the ability to lead?
  • How available are they to participate, and are they motivated?
  • Does each display positive interpersonal skills, which are very important to working within a group and avoiding or handling conflict?
  • Do they have money to contribute and/or connections within the community?

The above qualities in board members will help build a team that works well together, promotes the nonprofit and its cause, and involves the community in volunteerism and fundraising.

Consider a Short Term Trial

To assess potential board members before they join, consider having them participate on a trial basis for a predetermined term ( one-year board membership or one-year contribution on a committee are common trial terms) with the understanding that a decision to continue the relationship will be made at the end of that term. If it is determined that the individual is a good fit for the board and will add value to the organization, then he or she can be invited to serve a longer term. This also allows the opportunity for the new member to commit to being an active board member.

Evaluate

To determine the effectiveness of board members, consider not only their skill, but also their behavior. Having them join on a trial basis gives you insight into their interpersonal skills. Do they participate in discussions and decision making? Do they cooperate, even when the decision does not line up with their opinion? How do they handle conflict? Do they volunteer, and are they enthusiastic? Consider involving all members, individually, in the evaluation of a potential new member. After all, they need to work together to be effective.

Whether it is through expert knowledge, technical experience, enthusiasm, leadership, or the ability to get things done, look for new members who can offer value to the board. With the proper planning, careful selection and facilitation of new members, you’re likely to attract effective members who will help strengthen your overall board of directors and nonprofit organization.

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