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Should You Add to Your Nonprofit’s Board of Directors?

Nonprofit organizations are more successful when they are supported by a robust, functioning board of directors. Your executive staff should keep a close eye on how your board members move your mission forward. Is it time to add more trustees to the mix to bolster the board’s effectiveness? As you evaluate your nonprofit’s board – what they have done and consider what else they could do for the organization – here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Establish succession plans and term limits for your board of directors 

Has your board established good governance practices, including leadership succession plans and term limits? Your executive board committee’s collaborative relationship, establishing clear succession plans, and board term limits are essential to the long-term success of your nonprofit.  Having clarity about who will lead the board is imperative to ensure your organization is never left without strong leadership. If you have yet to develop a succession plan, think about how you can gently lead your board in this effort.

What about term limits – has your board adopted a policy of limiting trustees’ service on the board? This is a deceptively important component of board service. Term limits allow the board to cycle off ineffective trustees with little drama and compels the board to build a pipeline of new prospects. From the nonprofit standpoint, term limits invite fresh perspectives and new eyes to view your organization’s mission and vision. New perspectives can unearth important considerations about service delivery or other aspects of your operations. 

2. Consider what you need your board to do or be to advance your mission

Think about what phase of life your organization is in. Are you preparing to expand programs? Then you might then need a board dedicated to fundraising and building out program strategy. Is your board embarking on a multi-year strategic planning process? You may consider rounding out your board with several strategic experts in your field of service. Are you planning for a large capital project, like building a new facility? You may staff your board with experts in construction, project management, real estate, or something related to the project itself. Identifying your organization’s current needs will inform the types of board members you should seek out

3. Evaluate your existing board and board structure

One key step to take before recruiting new board members is to evaluate your existing board. Obviously, you know who is on your board, but do you have pertinent demographic information, such as where they live (a particular neighborhood, for example), what they do for a living (not only occupation, but the industry category and who they work for), and their social media account information (do they use Instagram? Do they network on LinkedIn?). Do you have important self-identifying information such as pronouns, race, or gender descriptors? Creating a database of information about your existing donors will allow you to identify opportunities for new board members. Capture this information on a spreadsheet or utilize Network for Good’s donor management features to tag your board members and easily track these key demographic data points.

Next, ask yourself if your board best represents your nonprofit to the community, and if it offers you the expertise you need to execute your mission. For example, if your nonprofit is healthcare-focused, is your board heavily staffed with healthcare professionals? If your organization serves specific locations, does your board include representation from those areas? If your board supports a particular demographic, do you have trustees who embody those qualities? For example, if your nonprofit offers after-school support in urban areas with an underserved population, do you have trustees from those neighborhoods who can speak to your clients’ experiences? Your board may make better data-driven decisions about your nonprofit’s mission if it includes people who implicitly understand the experiences of the population you serve.

Finally, take a look at how your board is structured and how it functions. Do all your board members understand their role in helping your nonprofit fulfill its mission? Does the board function well together to make informed decisions? Review key considerations for a board structure to help answer some of these burning questions.

4. Evaluate your board prospect pipeline

You should also consider your prospective board member pipeline. Where will your board member candidates come from? Ideally, prospective board members are identified through donor records, word-of-mouth, or existing board member recommendations. Develop a board member recruitment strategy to identify, recruit, and onboard new directors. As mentioned above, you should consider what your ideal board member looks like and what they can help your organization achieve. Finally, consider if there will be a financial support expectation, and if your prospects can meet it with either “give or get.”

There is no right or wrong answer to the question about expanding your nonprofit’s board. Rather, take some time to think about why you might need to – does your board’s composition need adjustments? Is your mission taking a new direction, or are you embarking on a new capital project? The reasons for expansion are varied and specific. In the end, understanding where your nonprofit is now, and where it’s going in the future, will help you decide whether or not to begin your board growth journey.

Published: September 28, 2022

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