Building a board

Addressing the who, what, and how when establishing board members.

Identifying and recruiting board members can be a daunting task, especially if an organization is new or reshaping itself. Either way, existing members of the board and community have a challenge ahead of them when identifying and recruiting qualified candidates. Blue Avocado, a nonprofit magazine for nonprofits, compiled a list of the Ten Biggest Mistakes Boards and Executives Make. Some of the mistakes mentioned can be avoided by trying out a couple strategies.  One of the more overwhelming challenges is determining the “Who,” “What,” and, eventually, “How” of establishing a board.  Who do we want? What is actually necessary? How do we even find them?


The first step in this process is geared towards identifying the necessary skills the organization desires from candidates. Boards may want to consider professional experience, such as law or management or perhaps foreign language skills if they are lacking in those specific areas, for example. However, recruited board members with passion are not to be overlooked, as some board members are motivated by engaging in work that provides them meaning and satisfaction, also known to be intrinsically rewarding.


Promoting and engaging in this form of work can aid in encouraging new ideas and strategies not previously engaged to an organization that may be (or not) struggling -- a topic worth further exploration in the Ivy Business Journal.  The ultimate combination, though, is to recruit board members who can bring both needed skills and their passion(s) to the organization while feeling comfortable and accepted. Ultimately, envisioning “who” that ideal person is, “who” can execute the board’s prioritized tasks over the next year or several years may require a brainstorming session or two before recruiting starts.


Organizations face equal challenges when recruiting board members. The question, “How do we recruit?" or “How do we attract the right people?” can easily stall the process. Adopted from Michigan State University Extension’s leadership programming, the figure below focuses on just some of the recruitment strategies that exist for attracting board members, some more traditional than others. The following chart identifies some pros and cons from the boards’ perspective (not the recruits).

One innovative strategy, sometimes

Strategy Pros Cons
Advertisements Recruits are typically new and can offer fresh ideas and perspectives Recruits come in "blind" not knowing others and/or culture
Swaps -- rotating board members between organizations Recruits come with references Relationships can be tarnished if referenced recruits don't work out

called the “One-Hour Task Force,” for recruitment specifically seeks the involvement from a mixture of community members in the identification and recruitment of board members. The process follows an invitation to community members to join a board meeting where the board identifies to the audience their ideal candidate(s) within a one-hour time frame. After the presentation, the audience is encouraged to reflect on the requirements identified by the board and determine if they can recommend candidates based on their personal network of colleagues, friends, and/or family.  Participants would then make a recommendation to the existing board that they feel would fit the role. Additional strategies, including further information on this method here, can be found in Blue Avocado’s diversity discussion articles.

For additional information and/or opportunities contact your local Michigan State University Extension office or seek out an expert.

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