Six roadblocks to board recruiting
Here’s my challenge to you:
In one minute or less, explain to a complete stranger what a nonprofit board does.
Now make it sound interesting enough that they’d want to serve on it.
A few years ago I came upon a report on nonprofit governance with the following statistic:
- 90% of nonprofits find it ‘somewhat difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to find qualified board members (1)
In the last sentences of the report, the author made this observation:
“Additional research is needed to better understand the barriers to obtaining board members.”
I might be going way out on a limb here 😉 , but here are six based on my own experiences.
Six barriers to recruiting board members for nonprofits
1. We don’t have great “word of mouth” working for us on the rewards of board service, mainly because most board members don’t experience any. Instead of engaging board members in the exciting, strategic work of community change making, we stick them in meetings where they fuss over ministrivia or get reported at. We barely train them or engage them. Too many board members are never sure of what they should be doing – especially if they’ve never served on a board before.
2. In a quick troll through Google, you can find multiple references from for-profit employers complaining about the hard time they have finding qualified employees. So, if wages aren’t sufficient to surface quality people, how about recruiting for a job that has long hours, high responsibility and no pay!
3. Too many nonprofits wait until the last minute to look for board members. It takes months, sometimes even years, to identify, find, cultivate and qualify individuals with the skills, knowledge and passion that you want in a board member.
4. We keep going to the usual suspects and then complaining that the same people are on too many boards. How is it that those chamber members were never reached, even within the organizations where they were already volunteering? Sadly, that Urban Institute report noted that boards are overwhelmingly made up of non-Hispanic whites and individual between the ages of 35 to 65.
5. Board jobs are complex, confusing, we expect too much of too few directors and we provide little support. I don’t know about you, but I’ve served as chair of a board or committees where I estimated that I volunteered, on average, close to 8 hours a week. Granted, those were organizations I loved and I took on a leadership position where lots of change was happening. But I have lots of flexibility in my job (which is in the nonprofit sector already) and my kids are now grown. But how many individuals can give even a fraction of that kind of time?
6. As a sector, we haven’t done the best job making the case for board service – especially when most people only hear about boards when there is a local scandal or government investigation. The survey’s author even put out a call to the sector and its supporters: “sound practices and policies must be coupled with investment in people, by helping nonprofits obtain individuals willing and able to serve…” (emphasis added)
It’s unlikely that it will ever be “easy” to recruit qualified board members – and it probably shouldn’t be. Every organization needs to take its time to find and train qualified, passionate people who care about the mission and have the knowledge and skills needed at any given time. But it certainly would be nice to have a large pool of eager and ready recruits from which to choose, wouldn’t it?
* I went with: Nonprofit boards make sure that their organizations make a real difference in the quality of life in their communities and see to it that those organizations are both worthy and trustworthy of community support. You be the judge.
P.S. If you are in the 10% that isn’t having a difficult time recruiting board members, I’d love to hear from you.
(1) That number came from research by the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy of The Urban Institute. Titled Nonprofit Governance in the United States, Findings on Performance and Accountability from the first National Representative Study, the report analyzed feedback from the chief executive officers/executive directors of over 5,100 US nonprofits of various sizes.