The “Recruit New Board Members Fast!” Checklist

by Joan Garry

It’s SO important to recruit the right number of the right folks. It’s a team effort – here’s the plan.

Last month, I worked with a client that has a $400,000 budget and four board members. They wanted to know how they could raise more money.

I hear this story pretty frequently. A few years ago I worked with a much larger client with a $30 million budget and twelve board members.

They were having trouble raising enough money too.

I gave them both the same answer. “Your math isn’t adding up.”

For most nonprofits, your board is supposed to be a fundraising engine. If the engine does not have sufficient horsepower, fuhhgeddaboutit.

Also, a board with only four members? A good rule of thumb is that one-third of your board will be awesome, one-third will do something if you ask, and one-third will be dead weight.

Try out that math with a four-person board…

So back to the $30 million client. I told them about my “Recruit Board Members Fast” checklist. They implemented it immediately and added six solid board members in just three months. Lo and behold, their fundraising issues diminished.

So what’s on the checklist…?


Step 1: Get 100% buy-in. One board was reluctant to add – they liked the small, intimate nature of the group. They feared the board would lose its collegiality if it grew. We turned them around but without full buy in, recruitment is really hard. Small groups have smaller networks than larger groups (if recruited properly.) Your board members are your biggest source of resources of all kinds. Remember, the more you have, the more you have.

Step 2: Create the right team. Bring together your most detail and process-oriented board member with your most enthusiastic fundraiser. Grab a volunteer to facilitate or spend a little bit of money on someone to drive the process and help steer it in the right direction. Add to the mix someone senior in the development department, either the Director or the person who deals with individual giving.

Step 3: Assess your existing board. In two ways. First, use my attribute assessment tool to figure out what you have in terms of commitment, level of engagement, fundraising potential, added value, etc. Then look at the board in terms of skills and expertise.

Then remember what the Nonprofit Resource Center says: “What’s wrong that most board composition matrices focus attention on what people are, rather than on what the organization needs board members to do.”

Lastly, have everyone on the SWAT team read this article from Blue Avocado.  It’s called “Ditch Your Board Composition Matrix.” Consider the first rate piece of advice contained within: “What are the three most important things for our board to accomplish this year?
 And do we have the right people on the board to make that happen?”

Step 4:  Committee presents recommendations. To the full board. At least 90 minutes dedicated to this discussion. A discussion that includes not only your varying recommendations re: priorities but also answers the important questions below. Get board buy-in on those recommendations.

Step 5: Finding prospects that fill that bill. To recruit board members, think broadly. Think colleagues, think neighbors, think parents of your kids’ classmates, think community officials, think academics, think former EDs, think former board members rolling off other like minded boards. Think donors. Think volunteers.

And do not let the staff off the hook. Your Development Director, your Executive Director and any senior program staff members’ rolodexes should be part of this mix.

Think not only money. Think passion for the mission. Think willingness to learn to fundraise. Think about access more broadly – a community leader who is a fan of your expansion plan, for example.

Also think about people who would not make a substantive commitment but could be persuaded to join for one term. Or even one year. If there could be a real catalyst in board change, it would be so worth it.

So now you have a list.

Step 6: Prioritize and begin outreach. SWAT team divvies up the names and begins to call and talk or set up time to talk.

Step 7: Have a very clear, detailed-oriented recruitment process. I can’t tell you how many new board members have described the recruitment process this way: “Oh, the Board Chair just asked me and I said yes.” (Be on the lookout for a future blog post re: my thoughts about that process.)

Step 8: Have a thorough (but not too thorough) interview process. You can read more about the board interview process here.

Step 9: The Executive Director MUST be a part of the interview process and she along with the Board Chair should have a disproportionately weighted vote.

It sounds like a long and drawn out process, right? It doesn’t have to be. That’s why you need a team and you may need an internal or external cattle prod to drive the process with due speed.

It will not be a long drawn out process if the SWAT team agrees to meet weekly for three months. Maybe every two weeks but no less frequently. This is intended to be a short term initiative to build your board.

It’s also a long term investment in reaching consensus on what your board should look like and building a prospect list that will serve the organization well as it moves forward.

Next: How to select first rate board members.

6 thoughts on “The “Recruit New Board Members Fast!” Checklist”

  1. No simple answer here. But from the time someone expresses interest, 2-3 months if u have a large board and a governance committee. There is also what I call “fast track” – someone interested who you don’t want to let get away. Need to move them through the process very quickly (30days) to avoid losing them.

  2. Great article! Need your thoughts a little more in depth- what exactly is the executive director’s responsibility during board recruitment? I consider recruitment to ultimately be the board’s responsibility and the director is a tool; the board determines a recruitment process and the director is a tool for marketing and networking (when requested)

  3. Thank you! 🙂 The link for “Here’s a sample matrix to use” seems to be broken. Can you check into the correct link? 🙂

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