The Case of the Board Member Hunt

by Joan Garry

One of the most common requests I get is, “Help me find board members.” Here’s how to do that.

Transcript below:

Hi. Joan Garry here, answering questions that board and staff members at nonprofits ask me, quite literally, all the time. I get emails. I can’t answer them all. I’m hoping that maybe in these Q and A, I stumble upon the question you yourself might have. Trust me, if you’ve got it, so do many others. I treat these a little bit like cases, like I’m one of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or something, so this one, we call The Case of the Board Member Hunt.

Of all the questions I am asked, I believe this must be the most common: help me find board members. Actually, that’s not a question. That’s a statement. Can you help me find board members? Here are three good tips. Number one, stop asking the question so generally. Can you help me find board members? That means that you go to a board meeting, and you say, “Hey, does anyone know of someone who would be a good board member?” That is a paralyzing question. In general, if you ask that question that abstractly, you will paralyze board members, who will think only that you want people who are rich or know others who are. Trust me, that’s not what you’re looking for. Think about this like you’re directing a play. You can’t walk into a room and say, “I’m directing a play, and I need some actors.” You have to be specific about the kinds of roles you’re looking for the actors to play.

Number two, make intentional time for either as a full board, or as a subset of the board, to sit and think about only this: what would the ideal board of our organization look like? What skills, experience, expertise, competencies, attributes would the ideal board have? Figure out which of those you have, based on your current board, and then make a list of the gaps. It is those gaps that then become the roles that you will cast for. You can then begin to say, “We really need someone who knows something about strategic planning.” Maybe you can go to a large strategic planning firm in your city and ask one of the minority affinity groups to help you find a board member who’s a junior planner who would be just right for a small board. Once you know what role you’re casting for, there’s all different places you can look for those folks, and different ways you can look for people who bring different things to the table and diversity in its broadest definition.

Number three is engage your board in discussions outside of the board room, to reshape how other people see board service. I think that there are a skajillion people that oughta be on boards, a skajillion people who think they are ill-qualified because their neither rich, nor do they think they know rich people. They don’t understand what board service is, the privilege it is, what it feels like to be part of a board, and that it’s about inviting people of all sorts to know more and do more. One thing leads to another, that leads to another, and you’re building an army, and sometimes members of that army even have money.

Stop asking the question generally. Make intentional time to sit down and think about what gaps in skills, expertise, competencies, and attributes are, where are your gaps? Then start casting for those roles.

The third is be part of the solution. People don’t choose to be on boards, not always because they don’t have time. It’s because they don’t understand what an incredible joy and privilege it can be, and they think they have to be rich or know someone who is. All they need to do is be in love with your organization and be an ambassador to talk about the work of the organization to as many people as possible. It’s that simple.

We answer a lot of questions in our Facebook group at Thriving Nonprofits with Joan Garry. Head on over there and join the 11,000 folks who are there, and learn from and support each other there. You’ll find a weekly blog post from me that usually has practical and actionable advice, and a story or two that might make you laugh, and it might provide you with a kick in the pants and a shot in the arm. You can find that at joangarry, with two Rs, .com. See ya next time