Nonprofit Boards Demystified

Not as mysterious as their corporate counterparts, nonprofit boards tend to be more transparent as their members serve as the face of their causes throughout the community.
Because nonprofit organization board members are so visible, local board development committees have the ability to compose the face of their organizations as they wish by being selective in board member recruitment.
Connie Doverspike, community volunteer and co-chair of the board development committee at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said that her committee wants candidates who can further the mission of the center, which is “building better communities through effective nonprofits.”
“The board of directors runs the nonprofit,” Doverspike said. “And there is a whole list of things we look for in a board member.”
The ideal board member is particular to each board and what the organization does, said Kathleen Berger, who is a Street School board member and is on the advisory board at Meals on Wheels.
“Some boards are looking for community contacts, and some look for who can give the most significant monetary donations,” Berger said. “Some look for people who can raise funds, whether that means you have contacts or if your employer is very involved in the community.”

Experience a Bonus
Doverspike said her committee emphasizes board diversity. Her board development committee developed a checklist to help ensure they pick members who have a variety of experiences and skills. The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits looks for board members with expertise in finance, marketing and legislative procedures, to name a few.
“I think it’s nice to have someone who is an attorney or who has a legal background, or to have an accountant/CPA as an advisor. People with human resources skills have been excellent for us as well,” Doverspike said.
Berger would agree.
“Diversity is definitely key,” she said. “We have some members who are with the big PR firms here in town, and they are invaluable to us.”
Skill sets are not the only criteria considered when selecting potential board members. Board development committees desire to recruit new members who have had experience as board members for other organizations.
“Having members who have some experience and background who you don’t have to retrain and who can move up into leadership positions and train new board members is a hugely positive thing,” Doverspike said. “You want some continuity on boards.”
Continuity is good, Berger said, but a dynamic board is also important.
“You have to move people on and off the board so that it changes and so people can come with new ideas and things that haven’t been done before,” Berger said.

Giving Responsibility
Accepting an invitation to become a board member means also accepting a responsibility to donate funds and to help raise money and volunteers. When soliciting donors in the community, Doverspike said it helps to be able to say that 100 percent of her board donates.
“You do have a donation with which you support your organization if you’re going to serve on that board,” Doverspike said.
Berger said that all boards like to see their members contributing monetarily, and that board members “are expected to be participating members in fundraising, whether it’s you providing the funds, if you help with a fundraiser or if you find other sources.”
Individuals who are able to make large donations are not the only targets of board recruiting committees.
“Corporate people and heads of corporations are sought after because they have access to funds or relationships useful for fund development,” Doverspike said. “You often see these people on multiple boards, and once they cycle off a board, another board is right there waiting for them.”
Though Berger thinks the ideal board member “needs to be someone who can help raise funds, whether they can provide themselves or through their contacts or business associations,” she thinks the passionate board member is the most effective one.
“Being a board member takes work,” Berger said. “We’re not there because we’re paid. We’re there because we love the organization we serve.”
Once an individual is recruited to serve on one board, they are commonly asked to serve on others. Doverspike thinks that if you see certain names on a list of board members of an organization, that speaks to its reputation.
“You see a person’s name and you think that this is a sharp person and they would not serve on this board for two terms of three years apiece if it wasn’t functioning properly,” Doverspike said. “Then your own interest in serving on that board increases.” ?

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