By Wayne R. Pinnell, CPA
Haskell & White LLP
Chairman, Board of Directors
Ladera Ranch, Calif.
Membership on a nonprofit board of directors can be a rewarding experience for individuals who have the both the desire to serve, and a passion for the work that the nonprofit organization is doing within the community. Yet, with nonprofit board membership comes great responsibility, which most often requires the board member to commit not only their time, but also their financial resources, to benefit the nonprofit organization.
As Chairman of the Board for Laura’s House (http://www.laurashouse.org/), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to change the social beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate domestic violence while creating a safe space in which to empower individuals and families affected by abuse, part of my responsibility is to help recruit new board members. I am also there to ensure that current board members remain committed to our organization’s mission and purpose, and continue to support our organization through whatever means they can.
The current economic climate has made the job of recruiting and retaining board members somewhat challenging. Personal finances, as well as the ability for board members to meet the various “give or get” goals set by a nonprofit organization’s board of directors, have been impacted. For example, board members who once relied on their employer or their business to supplement or meet their entire financial commitment to the nonprofit may no longer be able to do so, and may determine that they can no longer individually meet the minimum financial requirements of board membership.
Yet despite this reality, I would encourage the board of directors to avoid downplaying or overlooking that member’s contributions and service in other areas, such as volunteering with the organization or serving as a community advocate. A financial reversal of fortune often can be temporary, and if the board member remains committed and enthusiastic about serving the organization, the board of directors should make every effort to work with that individual to ensure their continued involvement. Likewise, the board member may very well be able to draw other folks to the organization as volunteers, donors and or future board members.
In the event that your board of directors finds it must replace individuals who have left the board for any reason, including financial hardship, or if a board expansion is in the works, there are key factors that should be taken into consideration when it comes to recruiting and retaining board members.
First of all, remember that the recruiting process is an opportunity not only for you to get to know the prospective board member, but for them to get to know you as well. Do not assume that because they show up for the interview, that they want the job. Make sure that they understand the mission of the organization, and that it aligns with their personal values. Determine how they want to serve your organization. Do not assume that a marketing professional will want to help market the organization or that an accountant will want to help with finances. Nobody wants to be pigeon-holed and this is a sure-fire way to burn out what could be a great board member.
Another important element to evaluate when recruiting prospective board members is personal motivation. After the prospect has learned more about your organization, are they still committed, or simply looking for an opportunity to “network” or build their own business? If it is the latter, you are in trouble because the board member will only stick around long enough to get what it is they want, and will not likely contribute to the long-term success of your organization.
Once the board member joins the organization, make sure that they are put in a position where they are allowed to thrive. Do not set them up for failure. If the board member is tasked with a project for which they simply do not have the talent or skillset, find something more appropriate for them to do. In the long run, they will be much happier and successful in their service to your organization. Also, make sure that they are acknowledged for their service in a way that does not embarrass them, or make them feel slighted. Keep in mind that some board members love the huge fanfare and recognition, while others prefer to remain “unsung heroes” through quiet recognition.
Finally, encourage periodic feedback from the members of the board as to their level of participation and ongoing enthusiasm, evaluation of the organization’s goals and the progress toward those goals, and the member’s interests in participation in other areas. A little bit of self-evaluation and reflection may be all that is needed to boost a member’s participation – or have them realize it is time for them to make their seat available for someone else.
For more information on Laura’s House, visit http://www.laurashouse.org/.