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" We know what we need to do, there's just not enough people to do it!"

Sound familiar?

Sometimes the problem with low-functioning boards is not lack of knowledge about what board members should be doing - it's a pure and simple lack of bodies to do the work.

It's all well and good to understand that high-performing boards function through committee work; but it's hard to populate committees with a 5 member-board (or 5 active members within a board of 12).

The answer, in these cases? A high wattage focus on very strategic recruitment.
Be Mindful About Needs

The first task is to figure out exactly what is missing.  "A few more bodies around the table" doesn't give much to go on in figuring out who might be a good prospect - or, rather, it gives too much latitude. Anyone and everyone could qualify - but why would they join? If all a group wants is warm bodies, a prospect is likely to ask, "why me"?
If, on the other hand, a board specifies a search for a marketer working in a large firm who has a commitment to their mission, that starts to narrow the playing field - and gives a group a strong pitch once they meet a candidate who fits ("We're especially interested in your ability to help our organization understand how our clients and funders view us and how we can influence that perception.")

That candidate, and those recruiting, know exactly the skills they're seeking to add to this board. And this clarity also leads to better performance once they're on the board - they know immediately how they can help.
Reach for the Next Rung

Boards often fail at recruitment when they immediately ask: "Who do we know who might accept this position?" Not only is this setting the bar too low, but it often results in adding people too similar to the current members. The real question ought to be: "Who do we know who plays in this arena who might lead us to a good candidate?"

This is an ideal opportunity to "friend-raise." Board recruitment can be used to touch base with people who'd never come on the board themselves, but who move in circles that might lead to a terrific candidate.  

These discussions can cover the ground of i) introducing the organization and a current board member's affiliation with it to this particular player; ii) talking up the agency's compelling goals and the new talents and networks the board needs on the team to get there; and then iii) making a direct ask ("Do you know anyone, maybe someone who is where you were 15 years ago - with fewer current civic commitments - who fits this bill and might be interested?")

These conversations serve a dual purpose - they give a nonprofit access to people it might not know who might be perfectly-matched candidates; and they put the organization in front of individuals who are likely in a position to be quite helpful in the future. Especially if their recommendation results in a new board member, now the group has a link to that individual and can go back to them with the message "You helped us before, and look what your investment has wrought!" They've moved into the nonprofit's camp as an advisor, and it's up to the nonprofit now to keep them there.
Cultivate Until The Answer Is Yes

Once a Nominating Committee has identified some possible candidates, the next step is to ask nicely, right? Not!

They have to fall in love - with the nonprofit's mission. The primary payoff for board service is the warm glow of knowing that you, as a board member, are helping your community/a deserving group of children/a globally-relevant cause to flourish. The courtship phase of board recruitment is the chance to drive this home with vigor - the deeper their emotional connection, the more motivated a new board member will be.

Asking current board members to serve as "tour guides" for the prospects - as a docent during a program visit, or a buddy at a fundraising event - offers the additional bonus of reinvigorating current board members by allowing them to see the organization through a newcomer's eyes.

In any case, getting a board prospect to see the program in action, and to meet current board members as well as staff leaders, is key. They have to buy the organization hook, line and sinker - so they come to the board thrilled to be a part of the team.
On-Board Till It Sticks

Finally, once they've come on, they need to be strategically integrated into the team. Assign a board buddy, give them something meaningful to do right away, and arrange an opportunity for them to mingle with other board members in a social setting. The first year is a critical on-ramp to active board membership. Don't let your enthusiastic new member miss the boat!
Tales of Recruitment Success:  Weeksville Heritage Center

Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn's largest African-American cultural institution, is a multidisciplinary museum dedicated to preserving the history of the 19th century African American community of Weeksville, Brooklyn - one of America's first free black communities.  Weeksville,, concerned that its board was not engaged enough in the organization's programs nor fundraising, and approached Cause Effective for help with both board recruitment and participation.

Weeksville's board and staff leaders had " identified the wrong areas for recruitment," realized executive Director Tia Powell-Harris, adding " our view was too myopic and we needed to deconstruct what we needed and why." 
Cause Effective guided Weeksville to pinpoint what new skills and networks the board needed and who could lead them to find candidates who fit the bill.  " Because we were able to layer a strategy on top of our intuitive process, we were able to systematically identify the top candidates for us to go after, and how," explained Powell-Harris.  This resulted in " a solid group of candidates we've been able to bring on" - 3 new board members added in just 3 months!

These board members are bringing " optimism, energy and curiosity" to the table, according to Powell-Harris - qualities that are quickly resulting in increased resources.  Weeksville's new board members have already brought their contacts to Weeksville's annual benefit as well as to cultivation events, nearly doubling the board's outreach.

" To have a board of committed ambassadors affects how you are perceived - you're validated by the visibility and hard work of your board," reflects Powell-Harris.  Added Board Chair Tim Simons, " Working with Cause Effective on board recruitment gave a rigor to our process that helped us find the right people - who are already bringing new energy to the board."
Cause Effective Can Help

Want some assistance in thinking this through? Check out this Board Recruitment Profile and drop us a line.

Contact us - we're ready to help you find the next great additions to your board table.

Judy Levine 
Executive Director  
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More Than One

Every board has its rock star (or rock-star-in-waiting). 
The one board member who'll talk with anybody, anytime, about the organization. Who asks people for donations instead of birthday presents. Who sends out four times as many annual appeal letters as any other board member.
"We need to clone Mary!" the cry goes up, half joking, half despairing, as the staff assess board fundraising engagement.
And it's true -- you do need to clone Mary. But in a form that's related, not identical.  [more]
From the Cause Effective Blog:
Will I Be Noticed?

Remembering back to my college days, I was thinking about one semester when I made the mistake of signing up for an art history class at 8 am. Dark room, big lecture hall, slides, early morning... you get the picture. I just couldn't stay awake. 
I'm sure I was not alone.
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For over 30 years, Cause Effective has strengthened the nonprofit sector by increasing the capacity of more than 5,000 nonprofits to build sustainable communities of supporters.  We provide carefully tailored counsel to help nonprofits diversify funding, raise more money from individuals, activate boards of directors, and get the greatest value from anniversaries and special events so they can achieve long-term, community-based change.

To learn more, please visit www.causeeffective.org.