My first experience with a nonprofit board was in the Dominican Republic. I was 23 and still wet behind the ears. I worked as a consultant for Opportunity International and they sent Karen and I there to establish a microenterprise loan organization. By the time we arrived, they had already established a board. It didn’t take long to see how dysfunctional it was. The board members were vested with authority without establishing themselves as good fiduciaries. I had to spend about a year figuring out how I could fire them and then recruit a board that had the qualifications we needed.* It would have been easier if we’d taken our time and established trust relationships.
So how do you go about actually inviting new board members onto the board? This is a third in my series of blogs
on establishing a good board.
Finding great board members
1. Network and brainstorm candidates.
2. Research candidate’s track record.
3. Assess: What specifically can the candidate contribute in influence, investment & insight?
4. Give candidates an opportunity to become a stakeholder through investing time and money (see below).
5. Empower candidates through limited responsibility to develop trust relationships.
6. Make the offer, communicating expectations. Give them a “board notebook” bringing them up to speed on organizational history, policies, bylaws and past meeting minutes.
7. In cases of uncertainty, allow a trial period, but never compromise on criteria.
8. Over time, continue to train them in the role of a board member.
As one invests time and money in an enterprise, one’s stake in that enterprise increases. Just as responsibility without authority results in imbalance, so does authority without a stake. Board members should be empowered to the degree that they have invested their lives in the enterprise. Staff have more at stake than anyone. They have invested their time and their dreams. Board members need to take into account the investment which stakeholders have made. This is their stewardship. If you’ve ever suffered “board abuse,” you know how important good board members are.
*The organization we started, ASPIRE, beginning with a new board of directors, became a tremendous success. It is still going strong 26 years later, having created tens of thousands of jobs for the poor.