Nonprofit board management guide - Recruitment (Part 2 of 3)

By Axis Marketing


Management techniques to improve board recruitment and retention from a nonprofit expert - Part 2: Recruitment

This is part two of a three part series on nonprofit board management. Haven't read part one? Read it here.  

Committee Responsibilities

The committee’s objectives and goals must be clear to everyone. Terms of reference for the committee ensure the scope of its job is well defined.

Responsibilities might include:

  • Defining the criteria for, and selecting potential board members
  • Cultivating volunteers and stakeholders who have an interest in the sector and governance
  • Presenting candidates to the board for approval, and then to members at the AGM
  • Orienting new directors to their responsibilities
  • Recognising board member achievements
  • Coordinating an evaluation process for the board as a whole and for each director individually


Ask each board member to identify what he/she brings to the board. This is the important first step before beginning the recruitment process.


Each year, the committee should develop a plan and timeline for meeting its goals. Some responsibilities will be annual (identify board prospects, interview interested candidates, etc.) while others might be longer-term objectives (develop introductory package, develop orientation manual and new board training session, conduct evaluation of aspects of the nomination process, etc.).


The Recruitment Process

Six months before the AGM, the committee should begin by identifying what skills, experience and demographics would best suit the board in the upcoming years. Using a matrix, of which there are many readily available, ask each present board member to identify what he/she brings to the board. This is the important first step before beginning the recruitment process.

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The committee should then identify prospective board members whose attributes are seen to address the gaps identified through the first step. Candidates will come from various sources including committee members, other board members, senior staff and skilled volunteers engaged in the organization’s work and/or who have been advisors to your board. Potential candidates from past years may be useful if they were not chosen because their skill set was not required at the time or they were too busy the last time they were approached.

Once the committee has an initial list of good candidates, it’s important to approach those people and cultivate relationships with them well in advance of the nomination process.

If a prospect is not already engaged with the organization in a volunteer role, it might be a good idea to work with him/her in this capacity before considering him/her for a board position.


Building an expectation of accountability into the recruitment process begins by outlining what is expected of the prospect and what he/she can expect in return.


This is a key way to determine if the prospect is interested in better understanding the work of your organization; the organization will be best served if the candidate volunteers in some capacity and becomes familiar with it. This will provide a good sense of his/her skills, ability to serve as a member and cultural fit.

This meeting should be planned carefully. Decide who will talk about what and in what order, as well as what materials to send to the interviewee before, and which materials to bring into the meeting. Understanding what is motivating a prospect to join the board is critical to ensuring the role will meet his/her interests.Interviews with board prospects should include the chair of the board and/or chair of the board development committee plus the executive director. It provides an opportunity for honest discussion about the organization, and about the prospective board member. This is the time to provide the prospect with a position role description. Building an expectation of accountability into the recruitment process begins by outlining what is expected of the prospect and what he/she can expect in return.

For those who are not interested in joining, try to determine why. Sometimes they are currently too busy but would happily reconsider at a future date.

One of the biggest problems with interviewing board candidates is that they are not interviews at all. Candidates come to “interviews” assuming that the job is theirs if they want it. The committee sells and persuades and typically does not vet the candidate in any substantive way. Real discussions about the board members’ fundraising obligations are swept under the rug for fear of chasing a good prospect away.

It is important to remember that board service is a privilege; working on behalf of your organization is a gift and public service is core to the betterment of our society.

Joan Garry, an online blogger, recommends six critical interview questions to ask potential board members:

  1. What do you know about our organization? (Find out why he/she is interested in committing time and energy.)
  2. What do you think are the characteristics of a great board member? (Find out if they have learned anything from any previous board experience.)
  3. Fundraising is a significant obligation of board service. (Reinforce the “give/get” concept clearly). Can you tell us about your experience in fundraising? (Determine what type of fundraising, e.g., garage sales or personal solicitation.)
  4. Would you be willing to attend a lunch with the chief development officer in which the goal was to make a major donor ask? (Find out about the potential director’s comfort level with major gifts.)
  5. Board members bring experience, wisdom, strategic thinking … and their ‘rolodexes’. Can you tell us about yours? (You’re probing here for who is in it and how willing the prospect is to share it.)
  6. What kind of autonomy do you have over your calendar? (There will be events between board meetings, occasional donor lunches, etc. Find out about his/her time flexibility.)

Do not make any unofficial offers to the prospect; the committee will not know which candidates are best until recruitment efforts near completion. Once the committee has finalized the top prospect list, candidates should be formally invited to put their names forward for election. Once the slate is approved at the AGM, the next step of developing the skills and abilities of your board members to act effectively for the organization can begin.


This is part two of a three part series on nonprofit board management. Continue to part three.

About the Author

vivian-smith.jpeg Vivian Smith, CFRE, is known for her commitment to philanthropy and her passion for the fundraising profession, which has led her to become one of the most respected and sought-after advisors to the charitable sector in Canada. Recently, after 17 years managing her own consulting firm, she took on the role of executive director for the Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation. Vivian is active in the Association of Fundraising Professionals as a Master Trainer and a director on its international board. She is also a director on the board for the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce and a frequent presenter at conferences and educational sessions throughout North America.

Tags: Nonprofit, Sports & Recreation

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