As a professional fundraiser, I’m often asked to serve on nonprofit boards. The trouble is that people think I’m going to bring cold hard cash to the board table with me.
Sadly, I’m not a rainmaker.
I don’t have a rolodex of rich friends who will give just because I ask. I don’t have a pocketful of donors from other organizations who follow me from place to place. I can’t single-handedly turn around a failed fundraising program.
In other words, nonprofits can really get it wrong when they think about what value I, as a fundraiser, might bring to their board.
What I can add is planning and implementation guidance. When I was recruited to the board of the Space Science Institute, we came to an explicit agreement. My job is to help develop a strategy for building fundraising capacity, provide coaching to the staff in fundraising, and help mobilize the rest of the board to fundraise. This job fits my skills and the organization’s needs. It’s a happy match built on reality and shared expectations.
The key to recruiting board members with a real purpose – and to avoid disappointment – is shared understanding.
Take a look at your board matrix. I’ll bet you have list of the types of board members you need: lawyer, accountant, program expert, fundraiser, etc.
But what do you want those board members to actually do?
Throw out your matrix and make a list of priority board recruits based on the actual work ahead of you. Then recruit board members with specific jobs in mind. That way everyone knows what’s expected.
Instead of recruiting a “lawyer”… recruit someone who agrees to educate the board on the legal ramifications of a major decision you know is coming up, establish a better human resources policy, and/or revamp your planned gift acceptance policies.
Instead of recruiting an “accountant”… recruit someone who is willing to serve as your Treasurer, chair your Finance Committee, and/or head up your Audit Committee.
Instead of recruiting a “business leader”… recruit someone who is specifically interested in helping you explore earned income possibilities, open the door to potential corporate donors, and/or lead a “Corporate Partners” program.
Instead of recruiting a “program expert”… recruit someone who is interested in providing guidance on program evaluation strategies, build bridges to other nonprofit organizations, and/or lead a strategic planning task force.
Don’t just slap a generic job description in front of a potential board member and assume they’ll do what you need. Talk to them about what you hope they will specifically and personally accomplish in the next year and make sure it interests them.
If it doesn’t, then forget that they’re the best attorney (or accountant, or fundraiser, or business person, or program expert) in town, they’re not a fit for your current needs.
Just imagine a board where everyone has a specific purpose and is enthusiastic about the work at hand! It can happen. Start with your very next recruit.