Dear Nonprofits: You’re a business, too.

As I was watching the Oakland Raiders obliterate the Denver Broncos at a local watering hole, I happened to meet two lovely individuals who were in conversation regarding a mutual friend that was in the process of starting a nonprofit.

Clearly, I had to dive into the conversation.

First, as is the case with most nonprofits, it has a wonderful mission: rescuing abused horses.

The problem, as is the case with many nonprofits, is that the visionary is encountering obstacles toward turning her idea into an organization. The topic at hand? Recruiting her first board of directors.

When recruiting initial board members, it’s important to remember: this is a business decision. Just because you’re starting a nonprofit does not mean you’re not going to need a business mindset in order to make it succeed. Translation: as tempting as it might be, do not count on your friends and family to comprise your first board. The end result will be very excited chattering, often with little follow through.

Pull out a piece of paper. Jot down a list of all of the characteristics you’d like in the “perfect” CEO or executive director. Perhaps you’d love someone who used to be an accountant. And a lawyer. And a professional fundraiser. And a motivational speaker. Oh, and someone who has experience starting nonprofits. Great. Now you have a general list of your first five board members.

Remember, your board represents far more than your governing entity — it also represents your organization’s potential network. Think of everyone you know. Now multiply that by the number of people on your Dream Board. Suddenly the two or three potential angels you were imagining could invest in your cause just turned into a potential 30. Your Dream Board is going to be as passionate about your cause as you are, which means its members will act as individual spokespeople on your behalf to their personal networks. Why else would they dedicate their valuable time to the cause?

And therein lies the key to an ideal board member: someone with a specialized expertise that will benefit your organization that is alsopassionate about the organization’s mission. No passion? No commitment. And you need to be upfront with your candidates — they need to expect to commit at least five hours per month to your organization. When foundations are deciding whether or not your nonprofit is worthy of a grant, one of the pinnacle factors is the level of board participation.

Another note: I’ve made a few references to your Dream Board for good reason. You deserve it! So many new founders act as though they’re lucky to get anyone on their board at all. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, create an application process. Rather than begging someone in an e-mail, “Please join my board! Pretty please?!,” try another approach. Try something like, “I really think your credentials make you an excellent candidate for our board of directors. Attached you’ll find the application; I hope this is something you’ll consider.” If you want others to take your endeavor seriously, you need to do so yourself.

Remember, recruiting your Dream Board is the first step of many. Your organization will need bylaws. I strongly recommend having a written ethics code. You’ll need to file your Articles of Incorporation with the proper local office, usually your Secretary of State. But don’t be overwhelmed — there are plenty of resources that offer guidance.


Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

Go back to The Write People.

Have an issue that you want addressed? Leave me a comment with your suggestion, and I’ll tackle it on my next blog entry!

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