Selecting the
Best Board Members

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Finding and selecting appropriate board members is critical to the success of an organization.  Most nonprofit executives are focused on the important task of raising much-needed funds for their organization.  As a result, when it comes to selecting or evaluating board members, we are tempted to assess their fundraising ability as the sole-or most important-criteria.

While fundraising ability is an important attribute for a board member, it is by far not the most crucial one.  We must consider other factors when searching for board members who must act as stewards of the organization, working together effectively to see that the mission of the organization is fulfilled.

So what should we look for when selecting board members?

  1. A strong belief in the organization. It is critical that board members are loyal to the purpose for which the organization was created and have an understanding of the needs of its constituents. They should also have a strong sense of the history of the organization, and be able to reconcile this with the organization’s vision and changing realities.
  2. Diversity. The composition of the board should be diverse, reflecting the population that it seeks to serve.  Some sources for prospective board members are colleges and universities, legal professionals, business leaders in your community, donors, service clubs, the banking industry, and volunteers.
  3. Willingness to commit time and resources. Board members should be able to attend most board meetings and be ready to commit financial resources in support of the organization.
  4. Experience in governance. The most valuable board members display strong skills in stewardship¾planning for the future, formulating strategic plans, setting priorities, and monitoring performance. Look for individuals with a record of successful involvement with other nonprofit boards.
  5. Ability to work with a team. Board members have to put aside self-interests to determine what is best for the organization. So evaluate whether an individual will work well on a team to get the best results for your organization. At the same time, avoid selecting board members who will simply rubber-stamp the decisions of the CEO.
  6. An understanding of his or her role as board member. In an interview conducted by Peter Drucker, one nonprofit executive described board members as “governors, sponsors, ambassadors, and consultants.” Board members play many roles but managing the organization is not one of them. Ensure that new board members understand that they will not be making decisions about day-to-day operations.

Sources for Success

Today I recommend an “oldie” but a “goodie”: Peter F. Drucker’s Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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