What works? Strategies to attract the board members we need

We began this series by asking the question, “Who is not in your boardroom?”  Recently, we posed the follow-up question, What are the biggest challenges you face in building a board that reflects the diversity of the communities you service?”

In a survey of our nonprofit partners, the following four reasons rose to the top, accounting for the majority of responses:

  • Lack of access to a candidate pool that adds to board diversity
  • Lack of success identifying candidates interested in serving 
  • Giving and fundraising expectations
  • Time commitment required

These did not come as a surprise to us – we hear them regularly.  We also hear creative ways that nonprofit boards are addressing these specific challenges.  For each of these reasons why nonprofits share they face challenges to building a board that aligns with their values, we share examples of policies and practices that make board service more accessible to individuals of all different backgrounds.  

Survey Results

What are the biggest challenges your organization faces in building a board that reflects the diversity of the community you serve?

Lack of access to a candidate pool that adds to board divsersity

This challenge arises out of far-too-typical board recruitment processes that rely solely on soliciting nominations from board members’ and the chief executive’s networks or asking corporate partners for nominees.  Instead, our nonprofit partners have found success diversifying their recruitment channels by doing some of the following things:

  • Going to candidates where they are instead of expecting these candidates to come to them directly.  For example, tapping into network that convene candidates of particular backgrounds or skillsets (e.g. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Urban League, etc.)

  • Having each board member assess their personal network and make intentional efforts to build it

  • Holding themselves accountable by setting specific goals round the makeup of their board and sticking to their goals when beginning outreach

  • Identifying prospective board members among current or past program participants

  • Accepting nominations through a publicly available candidate application (e.g., an application on their website)

  • Conducting online searches outside of their networks

  • Engaging in board placement programs like BoardLead

Lack of success identifying candidates interested in serving

Compelling nonprofit board service opportunities not only provide board members with the ability to contribute their time, talent, and treasure, but also to gain meaningful experiences.  Is your organization giving candidates a reason to join? Are there opportunities for them to be challenged?  Here are some of the ways our nonprofit partners are crafting and communicating about compelling, meaningful board service opportunities:

  • Leading their recruitment efforts with both board expectations and the benefits of serving
  • Meeting prospective candidates where they are, and seeking to understand how other communities define service.  (e.g., There may be a disconnect in how organizations present board service as a form of giving back, and how different communities define community service)
  • Holding more than one seat on the board for program participants
  • Growing the board by more than one board member at once when seeking to increase diversity with respect to marginalized identities to ensure that nay fear of tokenization is not mistaken for a lack of interest in serving
  • Developing thoughtful processes that consider where they are searching for candidates, how long they will search for, what research they have done, and who from their team will be doing outreach
  • Considering what areas of their approach might be leading to candidates declining the invitation, and then adjusting accordingly

Giving and fundraising requirements

Rigid giving and fundraising requirement for boards make it difficult to attract board members of varying backgrounds and reinforce barriers to participate in nonprofit board service.  In fact, we see boards often place too much of an emphasis on this expectation of board members, failing to think about all of the ways that individuals can contribute at the board level and therefore harming their fundraising efforts in the end.  Here are the creative approaches to this board service expectation that our nonprofit partners have shared with us: 

  • Tiered giving and fundraising expectation for board members based on how long they’ve served on the board
  • Tiered giving and fundraising expectations that board members assigns themselves to
  • Giving and fundraising expectations set for each board member based on their personal strengths and overall contributions to the board
  • Fundraising policy that invites board members to opt into specific parts of the fundraising process (i.e. making introductions to future funders, reviewing grants, being part of an asking team, etc.)
  • Attaching a tangible contribution to the Give/Get.  For example, setting the base Give as the cost of the program for on participant.

Giving and fundraising requirements

Time needed of board members will undoubtedly be influenced by the stage of growth a nonprofit is currently in.  It is understandable that some boards may hold monthly board meetings, or ask their members to contribute 10-15 hours per month outside of their normal working hours to the organization; Whereas other organization may only hold 4 meetings a year and ask 1-6 hours per month of a member’s time.  These expectations should not be a barrier in the recruitment of individuals who historically have not had access to these spaces of power.  In fact, for example, we have found there to be no correlation between time commitment, and race and ethnicity.  We ask that nonprofits consider if this only a concern held when recruiting for candidates that bring new or underrepresented experiences and identities to their board? Consider implementing the following:

  • Share time commitment expectations clearly and early on in the recruitment process
  • Trust that prospective board members will inform you if they have concerns with meeting time commitments as opposed to assuming their availability based on one’s identity
  • Reevaluate your time commitment expectations and identify areas where you may be able to scale back, or provide flexibility to all board members who may need accommodations

This is not an exhaustive list of practices that might strengthen our board and recruitment efforts.  What other practices have you observed or learned about that help advance a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in board development and composition? We may have similar goals, but we can take different approaches.  

About the Blog Series

This blog explores topics related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and nonprofit board development based on the experiences of Cause Strategy Partners’ board placement program staff. Through case studies, data, and stories from the field, Whitley Richards and Erika Flores share their learnings on what it means to have a board that is truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

Contributors

Whitley Richards, Chief Program Officer, Cause Strategy Partners

Whitley Richards oversees all existing nonprofit board placement and training services globally and leads the development of new programs. She has designed, built, and led internal and consulting initiatives focused on strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit governance and among nonprofit staff teams.

Erika Flores, Senior Program Associate, Cause Strategy Partners

Erika Flores supports BoardLead and Concierge Board Placement programs by connecting professionals with nonprofit organizations across the country for board service opportunities.  She plays an active role strategic nonprofit partnership development and relationship management to amplify and strengthen the scope and impact of our services.

Read the full DEI Blog Series