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Organizational Management

4 Steps to Recruiting the Right Board Members for Your Nonprofit

Author: Tatiana Morand
February 19, 2021
🕑 12 min read

There’s an age-old saying that goes, “You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”

This is certainly true in our personal lives, and the fact that the amount of spending companies have invested in recruiting has increased every year since 2012 (the market spent 151.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2019!) tells us that finding the right people for an organization is a priority, too.

Many people think of recruiting in terms of staff, but for a nonprofit, it’s just as important to be attracting, engaging with, appointing, and retaining strong board members. 

The benefits of assembling the right nonprofit board seem obvious: expert contributors, mission evangelists, staff cheerleaders, and passionate fundraisers are all roles a good board member should fill. If it seems like finding board members to fill all those roles (ok, we’d settle for most of those roles) sounds difficult — it’s because it is! 41% of nonprofits struggle with “recruiting quality board members who are passionate about the nonprofit’s cause.”

And even once you find the right board members, nonprofits report challenges to board effectiveness that range from an unwillingness to fundraise to a confusion about board members’ roles.

board recruitment



But it’s not all gloom and doom! Even though nonprofits have been honest about their struggles with their board recruitment process, many organizations have been able to find success with the right board members at their side.

Read More: 8 Types of Annoying Board Members

Finally, this is not a one-time exercise – you are building a long-term relationship. Although you might be thinking about filling a one-person gap right now, there will always be turnover of the board. So it’s important to have a process in place rather than react to a need in-the-moment. While you’ll want to revisit the specific criteria on a regular basis to ensure they suit your current needs, having a recruitment process in place takes the pressure off. And if your process includes maintaining on-going applications and leads, you may be able to jump right to the screening process when a board position comes available!

So whether you’re a staff person coordinating the recruitment process, a board member helping out in “filling the gap” on your board, or a member of the nominating or board development committee,  it’s important to follow a recruitment process to ensure you identify, assess and choose the right candidate for this very important job.

Who Should Manage the Recruitment Process?

In some small or newly established organizations, board members or committee members recommend individuals for consideration by their board team or an executive committee.

Other organizations create nominating or board development committees that manage the entire process. These committees are usually appointed by the board and include board members as well as other members of the organization to offer “a mix of perspectives.” The nominating committee is often chaired by a past board chair and may be a year-round standing committee, or assembled when there are board vacancies.

Of course, the structure or membership of your board selection team or committee should be customized to suit your organization’s needs and may even be stipulated by your bylaws. The key is to have a group of individuals committed to taking the time to establish and follow a structured process.

Here are four steps to establishing that structured process and building a solid board:

Step 1: Define Your Needs

How can you know a candidate is a good match unless you’ve identified what you’re looking for?

To ensure an effective, highly functioning board, you need to define the role and expectations for board members. This means defining the job, understanding the skills required to be successful in that job, and identifying the values and qualities that will enable the new recruit to become part of a cohesive board team. It’s also important to establish specific expectations for individuals and the board as a whole in order to set goals and evaluate performance.

Do you have a job description?

Just like the hiring process for a paid job, when you are recruiting board members, you start with a job description that outlines: the position’s key duties and responsibilities; the necessary requirements to fulfill those; and details on what the commitment entails. Here’s an outline of the type of information to include in your job or role description. You can use this as a guideline to draft a job description that meets your organization’s specific needs.


What benefits are involved with being a board member for your organization? (e.g., making a difference (how?); satisfaction in working with an energetic, committed board team, attending special events, etc.)

Responsibility and authority:

  • To whom is the board member accountable?
  • What authority does each board member have?
  • What are the general responsibilities board members are expected to take on?


  • How long are board members expected to serve?
  • What are the conditions under which a board member can resign before the term is ended?
  • What are the conditions under which a board member may be removed from the position? (this may be stipulated in your bylaws)

General duties:

  • What are the typical duties expected of a board member? (e.g., attends regular board meetings; reviews monthly financial statements; participates in fundraising; participates in/manages committees; etc.)
  • Are board members expected to manage or mentor the organization’s staff?

Time commitment:

Approximately what is the time commitment expected of board members? (e.g., number of hours for reviewing materials; attending board meetings; attending committee meetings, annual meeting, other tasks?)

Legal / financial commitments:

  • What are the legal implications of taking on this role? (e.g., liability; accountability?)
  • What are the expectations in terms of bylaw development, monitoring, etc.?
  • Are there financial expectations? (e.g., are board members expected to raise funds, provide sponsorships, etc?)
  • What is the board member’s role in the organization’s finances?  (e.g., is the board responsible for budget management? Is the board responsible for the organization’s financial health?)

Qualifications / skills requirements:

  • What general skills are needed? (e.g., interpersonal, problem-solving and communications skills, etc.)
  • What are some of the other skills or expertise you may be looking for? (e.g., board governance, policy development, financial expertise, strategic planning, marketing skills, event management experience, etc.)
  • Are there specific skills or attributes you need right now?
  • Along with the specific job responsibilities, you need to think about the type of skills sets you need on the board – which skills are missing that are required to round out the board’s framework? It can be helpful to have a diverse board – with members from different backgrounds and with different skill-sets that complement one another, like players on a sports team.

It can be tempting to try and find board members that seem like a jack-of-all-trades. This is especially true for small nonprofits where board members and staff end up doing a lot of different things. But as much as you can, try and identify the greatest needs your board has and recruit board members with skills and expertise that help meet those specific needs.

For example:

  • Is the community you serve represented on your board?
  • Are you looking for someone with financial skills; fundraising, marketing or special events experience; human resources expertise?
  • Some organizations use a “board composition matrix” to try and organize and match up board members’ skills, expertise, etc. to help identify gaps at the time recruitment is happening.

Qualities & characteristics:

While skills are definitely important, when it comes to guiding your non-profit’s or association’s mission, looking at the fit for values and qualities is also essential.

Some essential board qualities to keep in mind when recruiting board members include: 

  • Understanding of your community and its needs
  • Passion for your cause
  • Willingness to commit time for board meetings, committee meetings, planning sessions, special events
  • Team player – works well in a group
  • Direct and unbiased

Step 2: Find Your Candidates

The best-case scenario is to develop leads (through a nominating or board development committee) and maintain a list of potential candidates throughout the year. Then, if your organization has a process in place to keep track of individuals who offer to volunteer throughout the year, you can simply pull that information and begin screening those candidates.

However, if there’s no pre-existing list or database of volunteers, you might want to develop a process for gathering and storing this information from here on in. This could involve creating a specific Board Application Form (see the section below), or a more general volunteer application form, online database, or at the very least, a spreadsheet.

While you may be lucky enough to have folks offering their services, there’s often a perception that you need to be asked or invited to serve. So if you don’t have any leads or list of board candidates, here are some ideas for finding new recruits.

Getting the word out:

The first step is letting folks know that you have an opening on your board. As we noted in our volunteer recruitment guide, there are a number of ways to get the message out, including:

Referrals and word-of-mouth:

The first place to start is with the standard request for referrals from existing board members and volunteers. Ask your existing team to look for candidates from among:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues and associates
  • Neighbors
  • Community members (at church; clubs; sporting teams, etc.)

Publicize within your network:

To identify candidates from a wider network, consider:

  • Writing a newsletter article or a post on your organization’s blog or forum
  • Posting a request on your Facebook page
  • Posting a compelling video or photos of last year’s event on your FB page and ask for new recruits (follow-up with anyone that “Likes” your post)

External promotion:

You might need to widen your search to include:

  • Putting an ad in your community newspaper
  • Posting a request through your municipal or state/province volunteer center
  • Using online resources to find candidates

You can also consider finding candidates using some online matching or volunteer programs such as:

Leverage your current members and take advantage of your local community:

Greg Laney, president of the Atlanta Area Compensation Association, said that for his association board members are nominated for certain positions. However, these board members aren’t nominated based on a popularity contest. Current board members, and other members in the association, take the time to determine who would be a good fit for the board for the upcoming year.

“Our board has about 12 people… and then we have directors at large that handle specific projects. Over time, our current board and our current members get to meet everyone through the networking opportunities,” Laney said. “We learn about the experiences and skill sets of our members. They actively recruit throughout the year and encourage members to sign up for board duties. Through that, we then nominate board members for the next year.”

If possible, plan those networking opportunities within the community you serve. That will better your chances at attracting local community members, who might not otherwise have access to attending your events or know about them.

Step 3: Screen and Select Your New Board Member

Application form:

The application form (which can also be an online form) will help you gather and collect information about each applicant. Similar to a job application, a board application should include fields for biographical information, space to explain why they want to join the board, what they hope to achieve and learn from becoming a board member, and a place for any questions.

Although board members may refer or recruit colleagues or friends, it’s important that all candidates or prospects go through the full application and screening process to ensure consistency and to avoid any conflicts of interest or potential issues down the road.

Screening/interview process:

Once you’ve reviewed the applications, you need to develop a process for screening potential candidates so you can develop a short-list for interviews.

Screening is an important step in this process and part of your due diligence work. As Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook (PDF) suggests:

Screening practices play a critical role for organizations in fulfilling their moral, legal, and ethical responsibilities to all those they reach, including members, clients, participants, employees, and volunteers. The benefits of screening are threefold:

  • To better match people’s skills and experience to the needs and opportunities in organizations;
  • To improve the quality and safety of programs and services in communities;
  • To reduce the risks and liability for both people and organizations.

Interview tips:

Interviewing with all potential candidates offers an opportunity to discuss the role and find out about the candidate’s: background, skills, interests, qualifications, and personal goals. And, generally, to see if he or she is a good fit for the role, the board team, and the organization as a whole.

Here are a few sample interview questions you can craft to match your nonprofit’s board objectives:

  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why are you interested in committing your time and energy to us?
  • What do you think are the characteristics of a great board member?
  • Can you tell us about your experience in fundraising? (ie, are they comfortable with it?)
  • What is your experience with our community?
  • What is your time availability? (ie, would they be able to attend the occasional donor lunch or event outside of board meetings)
  • (if you’re screening for a particular board position) What is your level of experience with human resources/budgeting/marketing?


Some organizations develop a short-list of candidates through the screening and interview process and then invite them to attend a board meeting. Since the selection process may have only involved a few of the board members, this meeting offers an opportunity for the board to meet and interact with the candidates. It also lets the individuals see first-hand what a board meeting is all about.


The final step in the screening process is for the nominating committee to choose the finalist from among the short-listed candidates. Again, the final selection should be made based on a set of criteria in terms of a skills-set fit, as well as a discussion of the candidate’s ability to fit with the board and the organization in terms of values, attitude, and personality. Some organizations also require that screening of board candidates involves a police record check.

Once the choice has been made, each of the candidates needs to be notified (preferably through a personal call from the chair of the nominating committee) to officially invite them to join the board, or else to thank them and let them know if their services aren’t required. If, however, any of the other short-listed candidates were considered a good fit, consider letting them know you’d like to call on them if there are any future openings on your board.

Along with the call, the new board member should receive a letter confirming his/her invitation to join the board and outlining the role, timelines, commitment, and all pertinent details.

Make expectations for board participation clear:

Referring back to a well-developed board description allows you to be open about the expectations you have for all of your board members. The deeper you go into the interview and selection process, the more it’s appropriate to ask specific questions about how a potential board member’s experiences, skills, and lifestyles fit with board expectations.

Some of the most important board expectations to put in writing and talk about include:

  • Time commitments (regular board meetings)
  • Event participation (attend annual conferences, networking events)
  • Contributing to community growth (represent the nonprofit at events, speak to the media)
  • Fundraising goals (individual or for the whole board)
  • Information specific to their role. For example, if they were chosen because of their skills in architecture, and you’re getting ready to start a big building project, be open that their architectural expertise will be needed.

Step 4: Orient Your New Board Member

Congratulations! You’ve selected a new board member.

But the process isn’t quite done yet – you need to orient the new member so they are ready to take on their new role. The orientation format can be done through providing a welcome package of information, an orientation video, a presentation, or a training session.

However, at a minimum, new board recruits should receive the following information:

  • An overview of the organization – its mission, vision, values
  • Organization chart – outlining structure (e.g., board, committees, staff roles & responsibilities, etc.)
  • Organization’s annual report and any other pertinent financial reports
  • Role description (and any additional documentation or forms that need to be completed)
  • The organization’s strategic plan
  • Most recent board meeting minutes
  • The organization’s most recent newsletter and/or brochure
  • Schedule of board meetings (and locations), annual meetings, and any other events he/she is required to attend
  • Contact information – board chair, members, staff contacts, etc.

For more information on this, check out our guide to board training programs.

In conclusion:

Board recruitment doesn’t have to be a challenging and urgent task to fill a gap.

While you may have one seat open right now, there will always be turnover of the board, so it’s important to have a process in place rather than a stop-gap measure.

While you’ll want to revisit the specific criteria on a regular basis to ensure they suit your current needs, having a recruitment process in place takes the pressure off.

We hope this article helps you in getting started with or refreshing your board recruitment process!

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