Getting the Nonprofit Board Recruiting Process “Right”

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In my last post, I indicated that while nonprofit organizations often recruit “good” people, they’re not as successful at recruiting the “right” people to staff the organization or serve on the board of directors. There’s a huge difference between “good” and “right”. Sometimes they overlap, but it’s not automatic and oftentimes “good” gets in the way of “right”.

Frequently board members are recruited because they are passionate about the mission of the NPO. While admirable, that’s hardly enough and it’s certainly not the most important criteria in recruiting board members. So if you want to improve your board recruiting process so that you get it “right” more often than you currently do, what are some of the criteria you need to keep in mind?

Core Values and Core Purpose

Perhaps most important is that you use your core values and your core purpose as a screening tool in the recruitment process. Since you have clearly identified your core values and core purpose, each of your board members must embody them on a consistent and ongoing basis. If they don’t, it makes it extremely difficult to hold the staff accountable to embody and live out the Core Values and Core Purpose. An annual board evaluation process should incorporate this as one of the key metrics the board uses to measure its own performance - individually and collectively.

Understanding of Board Governance

Living the core values and core purpose needs to be accompanied by a solid understanding of the governance process. Since the board’s primary role is governance not management, individual board members must possess a reasonable working knowledge of best practices related to board governance.

Board governance addresses issues like policies and procedures, risk management, strategic planning, goal setting, performance reviews, budgeting, reading financial statements, program evaluation, and accountability structures to name a few. Board members must have some working knowledge in each of these areas of the organizational life. If an individual board member doesn’t possess a working knowledge in one or several of these aspects, they must at least recognize the importance of each aspect, support the work of other board members who do have the working knowledge, and commit themselves to their own development as a board member.

Relevant Skill Set and Expertise

Boards function best when they are comprised of people who bring diverse skills and abilities to their board involvement. Passion is great, but the board’s ultimate responsibility is good governance and passion along doesn’t guarantee good governance.

So what kinds of skill sets do most boards need if they are to be efficient stewards of the organizations credibility, mission, and brand reputation?

Board Chair

An organization’s collective experience is in large part shaped by the quality of the chairperson. This person needs to have the most comprehensive working knowledge of board governance and must know how to run an effective meeting that is focused on the organization’s priorities and keeps the board focused and accountable to those priorities. A good board chair knows how to draw the best out of every member on the board, thus making the board stronger than the sum of the individual parts. If the board chair recruiting process is flawed and if you have the “wrong” person in the seat, “right” potential board members will either refuse the invitation to join the board, or if they are already on the board, could be prone to resign thereby diminishing the board’s overall effectiveness.


Given that budgeting and finance are a primary focus for any board, it is imperative that a board have a person with formal training and certification in the area of finance and accounting.

Human Resources

A board member with HR skills and abilities is an invaluable addition to any board. This kind of person will ensure that the board treats staff well, has good evaluation and accountability structures in place, provides reasonable and fair working conditions and benefits for employees, and can resource staff and board when unhealthy dynamics surface within the staff team.

Liability/Risk Management

Given the litigious society we find ourselves in, liability and risk management is critical for any NPO. No matter how good a board is, they cannot eliminate risk, but they can manage and mitigate liability and risk. Good policies and procedures that are implemented, reviewed and revised as needed are critical to that process. Don’t underestimate the value of having a board member who understands liability and risk management.


It’s hard to imagine an NPO that isn’t dependent on a computer of one sort or another. The key is to maximize technology so as to advance the cause of the organization and increase efficiencies for staff and board alike. A board member with an above average working knowledge of technology and an understanding of how to apply that technology in the world of an NPO is another important skill set for any board.

Public/Donor Relations

Closely tied in with technology is public and donor relations. Most NPO’s have a compelling story that drives the organization. The challenge lies in telling the story in ways that capture the interest of current and potential donors, inspire volunteers, promote the brand reputation of the organization and generate passion and loyalty from likeminded people.

As you think about your NPO board, defining “right” using the criteria I’ve outlined here, on a scale of 1 - 10 with 1 being “Good” and 10 being “Right” where would you say your board falls on that continuum? If change is required, do you have the courage to what’s “right” or will “good” get in the way?