Every organization needs great board members who bring leadership, commitment, expertise and resources to the table. More than anything else, board members should share your passion for your organization and its mission. Makes sense, right? But too often board members are recruited for the wrong reasons. Here are a few: they have personal wealth to contribute; they have a skill set you need such as legal or financial; they are local community 'stars'; or they can bring you credibility and fundraising potential. If these criteria are at the top of your list, please tear up your list and start over.
Do you need board members who contribute money? Sure, and many boards have a 100% giving policy. But if funding is your first priority, that's what you'll get: board members who fulfill their commitment by writing checks. Do you need legal expertise or someone with strong financial management skills? If you do, seek out professionals who will donate their services at no charge or deeply discounted. But don't ask them to sit on your board.
Your organization needs leaders who believe in what you do and are interested in helping you do it. After all, your best board members don't just show up for meetings, they are actively involved in guiding your organization, right? They're the ones who have great ideas and help implement them.
A word of warning about looking for passionate people - make sure you look beyond your own organization. It's easy to confuse passion and commitment with personal experience with the organization. Think about these examples. Does an arts council need a board made up of artists? It's easy to see that this type of organization needs board members who are enthusiastic about promoting the arts whether or not they've ever painted a picture or thrown a pot. How about a domestic violence shelter or an animal rescue organization? Does a passionate board member need to have direct experience in order to be effective? Some organizations think so, and their board members bring great hands-on and personal understanding to the table.
So what's the problem? To start with, board members who have come up through the organization often have trouble making the transition to leadership and leaving operational decisions to staff. They may stay focused on the day-to-day picture rather than thinking strategically about mission. Another concern is that by recruiting a board with direct experience in the organization or its mission, you're missing the opportunity to make broad connections in the community. I may never have set foot inside your doors, and yet believe strongly in the importance of your organization. I may even send you a small donation from time to time. Who am I? I just might be your next passionate board member.