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Having a board of directors is not only a legal requirement for nonprofits; it’s a powerful business strategy. Think of your board members as your super-volunteers and build a board that harnesses their unique backgrounds, skills, and resources. Here’s how:

STEP 1: MAPPING DEMOGRAPHICS
To begin building an effective board of directors, it is essential that you determine what categories of board members are needed to provide a diverse, demographic mix. In fact, when considering grant requests, some funding sources will likely pass over a nonprofit that does not have a board adequately reflecting its community or beneficiaries.

STEP 2: ASSESSING SKILLS AND TALENTS OF POTENTIAL BOARD MEMBERS
Don’t let demographics be the only factor that you consider. Above all, your board members must possess skills and experience in areas that will benefit your nonprofit (legal, financial, marketing, development, etc.). In addition, it will be helpful to have board members with access to foundations, corporations, individual donors, media contacts, and political contacts.

STEP 3: RECRUITING STRATEGIES
It is important to clearly describe the board position to be filled. Prospective board members will always want to see in writing what will be expected of them before they make a commitment. Accordingly, before you begin recruiting, a position description should be in place. Another useful practice is that of forming a board development committee to assume the responsibility of recruiting new board members. At this point, it is important to develop a very intentional interview process before electing new board members according to the procedures laid out in your governing documents.

STEP 4: EVALUATING THE BOARD'S PERFORMANCE
The board of directors should conduct an annual review of their own performances. All board members should be asked to evaluate themselves and their peers individually, and to assess the performance of the board as a whole. An honest evaluation will help ensure the board is truly serving its purpose. Further, it may also be a time to replace current board members that have not lived up to expectations.

STEP 5: CASTING A VISION
In addition to holding annual performance reviews, the board should periodically go through a full strategic planning process in which the mission, vision, and values of the organization are developed and reviewed. Involving both the board and your staff in this planning process is critical. Also crucial is conducting this strategic planning in a friendly and cooperative environment.

ADDITIONAL TIP
As a stepping-stone for recruitment, consider creating an advisory council, which is less committal and more ambassadorial in nature. Advisory councils provide a good opportunity to vet potential board members as well as “hook” your target board members.

As always with the Legal Minute, these are broad strokes intended to get the gears turning. Board building is an essential nonprofit tool that is nuanced and different for every organization, so be sure to consult a professional to assist with this necessary and hugely impactful piece of nonprofit governance.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is presented for informational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice. Before acting on any information presented in this article, you should consult an attorney regarding the facts of your specific situation. We would love to hear from you, so please feel free to contact Wilkinson Mazzeo for a consultation.

Photo: Phillip Harder

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