Board Members Are Not Hypothetical Constructs
It’s fairly common among board development writers and consultants to suggest that nonprofits take inventory of their current boards and develop lists of what they need and want to add to the strengths of those boards. Then [goes the conventional wisdom] put your list in priority order, and you’ll be ready to do board recruitment.
What a waste of time! What’s the point of identifying a desired outcome (“Someone wealthy, with lots of connections, who’s eager to do fundraising”) if there’s no way to accomplish the outcome? What’s the point of fantasizing about imaginary people (“Someone wealthy, with lots of connections, who’s eager to do fundraising”) when the point is to find real people and attract them to your cause?
The real process of board development takes place when an entire board sits down in a room and says: who do we know? After the obligatory 10 minutes of “We don’t know anybody,” people will start saying, “Well, there is my cousin’s brother-in-law, who owns the copy shop on Fourth Street and has been looking for a board to join. …” It may not be as glamorous as “Oprah,” but it has a lot more chance of producing community members who are willing to join and support your cause – and that’s what board members are.
But if it’s so simple, why do most boards find it so hard? Because they neglect the essential first step: deciding what they truly want and expect board members – all board members, not just new recruits – to do. If you don’t write a job description, you’ll find it remarkably difficult to identify anybody who can do the job, and even more difficult to persuade him/her/them to take it on.