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Promising Practices for Expanding Your Board

If you’re part of a relatively new nonprofit with a dedicated but small board, chances are you know the board of directors needs to grow. But how? Here are a few promising practices to work toward.

  • Decide on a target number of board members, even if you’re currently much smaller than that. Strive to replace any exiting board members and add new members. But, don’t add too many at one time. Getting some new faces with fresh ideas in the door is great, but you don’t want the new members to outweigh the existing. Grow 25% toward your target number each year until you’re where you want to be. Example: Your board consists of eight members. Your ideal size is 20 members. If two members are resigning this year, replace them and add three more. Over the following three years, do the same thing. In four years you will have grown slowly but steadily toward your ideal board size.
  • Make board terms three years. As a new class comes in, those who have been on the board for three years should rotate off. If they’re still willing to be involved, assign them to a valuable volunteer position or to chair a non-board committee. If you keep your best volunteers involved, perhaps they’ll rejoin the board down the road. Their history with your organization is important.
  • Make a list of people in your community to approach about joining the board. Spend a few minutes at a board meeting brainstorming people in your community and networks. Your list should be three to four times the number of people you’ll want to fill the slots on your board.
  • Examine your list of potential board members. Which ones have skill sets that your board needs? Which ones are the kinds of go-getters you want? Make sure you don’t have too many people who would be likely to show interest in just one certain area of the board (finance, volunteer management, etc.). Make sure their skill sets are varied.
  • When you’re satisfied with that list, divide the phone calling up among your current board. This first call will be to gauge the interest level of each potential board member and collect more information from them. By the end of the conversation, if they’re still interested, send them a follow-up email with a list of board member requirements and expectations, and a form for them to fill out with all their contact information and areas of interest.
  • When forms have all been returned, sort through them as a board or a nominating committee. Decide which ones are still in the running for a board position and which ones aren’t. Invite the ones who are still good contenders to sit down for coffee with two to three of your board and staff members. Have a conversation about what’s coming up for your organization and what it needs to be successful. By the end of the conversation, know if they are ready to be officially nominated as a board member or if they aren’t.
  • Collect your official slate of board nominees and vote on them at a full board meeting. After the meeting, contact approved board members to congratulate them and invite them to their first event/program/board meeting/welcome lunch/etc. as board member.

Coming soon: board member orientation blog post. Stay tuned!

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