Getting the Right People on the Bus: It’s all about your nonprofit’s stage of development….

by Jane Arsenault on November 29, 2011

So Anne has been writing about how to fix dysfunctional Boards (Part I and Part II) and clearly her analogy draws on the adage, “Get the right people on the bus.”  It is a great concept when related to Board development but we often see organizations struggle to identify who the right people are.  We often see Boards who just don’t match what an organization needs.  Too often, we hear that a Nominating Committee has used a standard grid representing age, race, key skills, and geographic distribution to guide their thinking about who should be invited to serve.  They follow the grid, but the Board that results is less than successful. More often, Nominating Committees just pull out their rolodexes and call their friends, colleagues and contacts. 

In actuality, the character of Board members really should change as an organization evolves, so knowing the stage of development of your organization is an important element of understanding how to recruit an appropriate Board.  While the main tasks of legal stewardship don’t change as an organization evolves, other aspects of Board service do.  Let’s think about start up…as a very young organization you want people who have the passion and commitment about the mission to put up with the chaos of start up.  A young organization needs energy and often Board members can make the difference when things get tough.  It is unlikely at this stage that you will be able to recruit major donors or very powerful people but you also don’t need them at this point….you need believers.  Start up is about crafting an identity and figuring out what change you want to bring about in the world, building competency and credibility.  Boards need to be problem solvers, help with the hands on work of start up, and they need to be cheerleaders. 

During the growth stage, as the organization gathers momentum and goes through many transitions, a Board that can provide technical knowledge and skill can really help.  Mid managers from business, a CPA, and an attorney can all contribute their knowledge and skills at key points as the organization grows.  Once an organization is established, with a strong track record of solid accomplishment, it is easier to compete for more powerful and influential board members.  How do you know when that transition from growth stage to established stage is happening? 

Benchmarks to look for include:  you have a diversified funding base that includes multiple sources of revenue other than fund development; your programs have been evaluated and you can document proven outcomes; your organization has a clear brand and your reputation is strong and positive; your Executive Director is influential…his or her opinion is sought and respected in your field of service.  When all of those benchmarks are met, then your Nominating Committee can consider people of influence with a strong track record as fundraisers.  We sometimes call this group “the giving community” because in every region they are easy to indentify as donors, Board members, and active community contributors.  They spend a lot of time working with nonprofit organizations and attend benefits as a primary activity in their social lives.  They are the backbone of philanthropy and can make an enormous difference in your fundraising efforts.  The key to securing their commitment though is to build an organization worthy of their investment. 

You are far better off recognizing the stage of development of your organization and recruiting accordingly. Curious about how to determine your stage of development?  Use Fio Partners Strategic Growth Guide to get you started….

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