How to Find Strong Candidates for Your Board of Directors

It’s hard to deny that the strength of the board of directors plays a crucial role in the fundraising success of a non-profit organization. An amazing, supportive, well-connected board can make your non-profit’s development work far easier. Likewise, a lackluster board will significantly hurt your fundraising capabilities. How can your non-profit find strong new candidates for its board of directors?

What We Mean by “Strong”

First things first… what do we mean when we say a “strong” candidate or a “strong” board of directors? In my mind, there are three things that make a strong board member:

  1. Strong board members are active board members. They attend meetings, make calls, come to events.
  2. Strong board members are well-connected board members. They have large personal networks and are willing to reach into those networks on behalf of your organization. (For more information on raising money from board members, read How to Run a Successful Board Giving Campaign).
  3. Strong board members are smart board members. They spend time thinking about the problems your charity faces, and are willing to propose (and work towards) solutions.

When is the Right Time to Recruit New Board Members?

Most organizations only actively recruit new board members when a vacancy occurs. I think this is a mistake. In my experience, the best non-profits are constantly recruiting new board members. When the development director of one of these organizations meets a new well-connected contact, he or she thinks, “would this person be a good fit for our board?”

Even if you can’t fit another member onto your board, your non-profit should be generating (and communicating with) a list of qualified individuals who have come into contact with your organization.

Finding New Board Prospects

Here are the best ways to go about finding strong new prospects for your board of directors:

1. Ask the Current Board

One of the best ways to find new board members is to ask your current board to help you. Ask them to come to the next board meeting with a list of 2-3 contacts in their own personal networks (but not at the same company as the board member) who might be a great addition to the board. Also ask them to be on constant lookout for new members.

2. Meet Your Donors with a Board-Aware Mindset

Most non-profits spend time cultivating their major and mid-level donors (including at least one face-to-face meeting per year). When doing these meetings, be “board-aware,” that is, be on the lookout for donors who would make good board members.

Also, know that while major donors often make great board members, mid-level donors should not be overlooked. One great way to turn mid-level donors that have the potential to make larger gifts into major donors is by getting them onto your board. If you have folks who are giving $1,000 or $5,000 per year, but who have large networks and / or could be giving $25,000 per year if they were more engaged, consider getting them onto your board.

Another benefit of meeting with your donors regularly is that they will often suggest people who would be great for your board, and whom they can put you in touch with.

3. Pillars of the Community

One other great way to get good people for your board is simply by calling those companies who are “pillars” of your community, explaining your organization, and letting them know you would love someone from their firm to be on your board.

While this tactic often works well in big cities, it works doubly well in small towns. If you are running the one performing arts center in town, or raising money to open a new gym at the town middle school, it’s easy to call up the biggest banks, stores, and employers in town to ask for a board member.

The trick is meeting with the prospective board members who are nominated by the companies you contact to get buy-in. It’s nice to have great names on your board, but only if they are “strong” board members: active, well-connected, and smart.


Photo credit: University of Saskatchewan