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Diversifying Your Board

By: Annmarie Novotney, CPA, Senior Accountant

In an age of social media, online fundraising, and increased volume of organizations in the market, nonprofit entities in the United States are fighting for fundraising dollars that, twenty years ago, flowed more easily into their organizations. As the number of nonprofits in the United States now exceeds 1.5 million, organizations must utilize all avenues to grow fundraising levels that keep their missions alive, and to maintain lean and productive operations that promote efficiency. Diversifying your board of directors in experience and expertise is a crucial step in ensuring you have an effective team who are active in planning, fundraising, and contributing to your organization’s long-term success.

To diversify a board, you must look beyond the traditional skills and knowledge of individuals and focus on where the organization needs to go, and how the board can help get you there.

  • Create a strategic plan for the organization. You can’t diversify your board to meet your needs if you don’t know where you’re headed in the future. Work with current board members and management to set a clear direction for the organization and to establish tangible measurements to arrive there.
  • Define your board’s key gaps and look ahead. Create an objective analysis of current make-up of members, future needs, gaps in governance competency, expected turn-over, and board structure. You will need technical skills, networking connections, and fundraising abilities; but remember that no one individual has to do it all. Recruiting members of varying ages, experience, and expertise will promote different ideas and discussions that can propel your organization forward and help meet your strategic goals.
  • Utilize connectors. Use a network of existing board members and others affiliated with your organization. Think about who you know that would make a good connector – someone that might not necessarily be a candidate for your board, but who may be well connected with those that would be. The best connectors are those people with regular interactions with emerging leaders who aren’t over-committed and looking to get more involved.
  • Stay focused on the gaps and follow through. Prioritize your list of connectors and work with only a few simultaneously to encourage effective follow-through. Set measurable goals with existing board members for closing the gaps, as these can provide encouragement and set benchmarks for accomplishment. Also, keep your connectors apprised of your progress with their recommended candidates.
  • Develop a transparent recruiting process. Allow for several months for discussions with connectors and potential candidates, as well as the interview process. Set clear expectations for board member responsibilities that are easily measured. Keep board members updated on the recruiting process and make final decisions on candidates as a team.

At this juncture in the nonprofit world, organizations are fostered by qualified, competent leadership. Diversifying your board to include members of varying experience and expertise, and the process of doing so are essential to your organization’s success. This process assists in developing your organization’s direction and mission and also builds your network while increasing confidence and skill overall. As your board becomes more diverse, members can build on this confidence and skill and the organization’s reach will extend out farther into the community than ever before.

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