Start with incredible board members.


Having a reliable board of directors is key to a well run agency, and I’m often asked what makes a high-value board member.

This question usually comes from a board chair or CEO who has or anticipates having one or more openings on the board and is thinking ahead. While I can rattle off several important characteristics, these five are the most critical. 


5 Ways to Identify an Incredible Board Member


1. They are first and foremost a strategic, disciplined, critical thinker.


Does the individual you’re considering for your board of directors stand out? Are they able to see the bigger picture? A great way to discover this is to share a story from a challenge your agency faced in the past. Ask the candidate how they would have handled the issue. Are they offering new insight or more importantly, are they asking you the right questions to fully understand the challenge?

The last thing you need on the board is one more yes person. For an agency to be innovative you need new ideas, focus on execution, and new ways of thinking about problems.


2. They have a track record of service, ideally on a board of directors.


They’ve been there, done that, and have the scars to show the lessons learned. Can they share with you some of their experiences serving on other boards? Or, if they haven’t been on a board of directors yet, can they share their relevant volunteer experience? Perhaps they served on a committee, or helped plan an event, etc.

While it’s awesome to have new board members with previous board experience, sometimes you can also move your agency forward, by providing fresh insight to your board.

The most important take-away here is that it’s usually not a good idea to add someone to your board that has no nonprofit experience. If they’ve never volunteered, or never really been involved, they won’t like contribute much value to your team.


3. They have a passion for the mission. 


Do they love it? Live it? Breathe it? 

If the board candidate demonstrates little or no passion for the mission, they probably won’t be a high value board member. A lot goes into being a director: learning the key issues, preparing for and then attending board and committee meetings, giving up time to be an ambassador and fundraiser, and more. 

If you’re considering a new individual for your board, one of the best way to determine their passion is to ask why they want to serve. Because they love your organization or the cause? Because they want to give back in the community? Because they think it’s “great for their resume”…?

Their time, talents and treasure will all be required and unless the candidate can demonstrate a willingness to make those investments, he or she is probably not a good fit for your board. If someone seems to be applying just to network or to build a resume to enhance their career and marketability, they should be avoided.


4. They understand the role and responsibilities of a board member.


Virtually every new board member is interested in helping out and doing their job. There is a problem, though, when the new director does not fully understand what the role actually is, and/or what he or she specifically is expected to do.

Do you have a financial expectation for each board member? Are they required to participate in certain committees? If you’re a small organization, is each board member also required to volunteer for certain tasks or responsibilities? 

Effective boards conduct board training for new directors and have a detailed discussion with the candidates about expectations before they are officially on the board.

This way, each new member of the board of directors is equipped to hit the ground running. They immediately feel like a part of the team. They won’t feel shy about engaging in board discussions and wrestling with the day’s issues. If a board member is allowed to sit silently and be disengaged for the first 6-12 months of their term, they are more likely to quit early and will never reach their full potential.


5. They have a bias toward action and come to meetings prepared.


Many boards tend to over-analyze and struggle to make tough decisions in a timely fashion. At some point the chair or someone else, must get a sense of the board on those hard issues that always pop up. A director with bias toward action can help the rest of the directors process tough challenges, asses the best options and move forward.

If you can find candidates with these three characteristics, you can teach them the rest of what they need to know about your agency. Passion, clarity, and action-oriented directors will help you reach that elusive next level.

Ready to Lead Your Nonprofit Better?

From the Inside Out can you help you create a bigger impact with your agency. Discover how to lead yourself, your team, and your board. Put it all together and learn how to successfully lead positive change. Download Chapter 1 free!