by Anne Desrosiers
Nonprofits have various elements that pose different challenges than start-ups in other industries. One of the most significant indicators of a nonprofit start-up’s success lies in the Board of Directors. As a start-up leader, the Board of Directors has is one of the most frustrating aspects of running any organization. I have chronicled some of these frustrations in my previously penned Idealist.org blog Failing Forward – but as I enter a new phase of personal and professional development, there are some things I have recently learned about screening potential board candidates that can save other founders and even some vets, from some of the common headaches.
1) Take Your Time in Building a Strong Board vs a Mediocre One
As start-up leaders when people offer help our instinct is to keep them around by asking them to serve as board members – but people can always offer assistance and support without that if they are passionate about your cause. The level of involvement of a board is not a responsibility for even the most well-intentioned supporters and so it is important to take the time to build a strong foundation that can lead your nonprofit to long-lasting success.
2) Create Trial Opportunities to Vet Potential Board Members
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve done has been to bring people on board without seeing if they are up to the task. Instead of asking people to join the board, ask potential members to assist you in acquiring what you need and observe. This will give both you and the potential member a realistic glimpse into what it takes, patterns in communications, and other observations that can reveal if there is a match.
3) Always Talk About the Money
The main job of any nonprofit board is to fundraise. While resources and support in other areas are beneficial, money talks! Don’t be shy about making this the focus of your work from the beginning.
4) Learn to Identify Passion with a Purpose
Find people who are already involved in your cause. Be it a Facebook group, Meetup, or other connection point, identifying these groups and joining them is a major resource. This creates room for identifying those who are already inclined to support you and have a vested interest in your cause.
5) Get it in Writing
Frustration is a common sentiment for directors when it comes to dealing with the board, but it is difficult to communicate these sentiments professionally and with valid points. Therefore it is critical to be as specific as possible about the responsibilities and expectations you have for your Board and have it in writing. This is insurance for ensuring communication and sentiments are backed by agreed upon terms.