The success of a nonprofit hinge on several factors. Expenses must be managed. Staff must be able to work effectively and promote the organization’s mission. And you need the right board of directors that can provide more than just financial support.
Choosing the right board members is crucial to the viability of the nonprofit organization. Perform a thought exercise and image if you could pick any public figure or business executive for your board. How would you select that person? Beyond just their financial potential, what type of person comes to mind? A titan of the tech industry that is a leader in innovation and promotes sustainability? A veteran executive with thousands of contacts within business and politics that can prove invaluable for your nonprofit organization’s growth? Think broader than these types of characterizations and consider what type of person is ideally suited to be a director.
Choosing a short-term solution in the form of a deep-pocketed but disinterested director won’t pay large dividends down the road. You want to recruit board members that truly embrace your message and can effectively pair that enthusiasm with their multiple layers of personal connections.
Ideal Personalities for a Nonprofit Board
The trick is knowing what to look out for when building the best long-term board. Here are four tips for spotting these individuals who are connected and effective:
Thought Leader Status
“Thought leader” is a term applied to nearly every senior executive and business owner, but what does it truly mean? To determine if the person is a go-to person in their space, you have to look beyond their company bio. Is your director prospect frequently quoted in the news regarding their industry opinion? Are they speaking at the top conferences and receiving recognition for their work? Talk to other top people in the industry to gauge your prospect’s standing. Are they well-respected due to accomplishments and knowledge, or are they using blustery self-promotion? You want a subject matter expert and a strategic thinker that you can turn to when challenges present themselves.
Social Network Reach
It’s 2017, which means social connections matter, not just the “Rolodex”. Does your prospect engage with other individuals via social networks? Do they have a following of people that want insights and a glimpse into the prospect’s persona? All of these peers and friends can be later leveraged as connections, giving your organization a massive reach to contributors and potential donors.
Relevant Nonprofit Experience
If you have a donor in mind based on their prior giving, were they also involved in the nonprofit in some manner? Previous board members or those that have led partnerships are good candidates because they understand how to fundraise and how to generate support for nonprofit missions. Prior experience also means they already have nonprofit connections, whether it’s with other organizations or a donor network. You certainly shouldn’t discount an interested board member who brings money and connections to the table, but it is helpful if they have a clear understanding of the peculiarities and subtleties of the nonprofit landscape.
Judging the “passion” of an individual is difficult, but not impossible. Do your research about potential directors to see if your interests align. For example, are they a CEO of a firm that strives for maximum sustainability, which would tie-in nicely with your nonprofit organization’s environmental and recycling mission? Did they previously do a stint in the Peace Corps in South America? How does that relate to your goals and the mindset you need for a new director? This research takes time, but thankfully there are technology tools out there that are helping nonprofits to see not only the giving patterns of individuals but also their “relationship capital” in terms of how connected they are with the people that get things done.
Managing a nonprofit is challenging enough, and can be downright impossible with a set of disinterested directors in place. While of course, you need board members that can contribute financially and provide introductions to other philanthropically-minded individuals, it’s also vital for directors to possess certain traits. Selectively reviewing prospects for these traits and for their expansive network of connections will ease some of the burdens of nonprofit management by providing your organization with incoming donations and trusted strategic partners.
Neal Goldman served as the Chief Executive Officer at Relationship Science LLC. Neal Goldman founded Inform Technologies, Inc. in 2004 and serves as its Chairman. Neal Goldman served as a Managing Principal and Chief Executive Officer at S&P Global Market Intelligence (formerly, S&P Capital IQ, Inc.). He was the Managing Partner of CapitalKey Advisors, Inc. He was an Investment Banker in the M&A Group at Lehman Brothers Inc. He served as a Principal of Lincolnshire Management, Inc. He serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Relationship Science LLC. He serves as a Member of Advisory Board of Global Precision Research, LLC. He served as a Director of S&P Capital IQ. He is also an Adjunct Faculty Member at Columbia Business School. Neal Goldman received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Columbia Business School.