Captioning–Press (Special Page)

"Our BoardAssist candidates have been amazing additions to our Board of Directors."

Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
Credit: Volunteers of America
helping individuals and families in need

A new $10,000 a year donor is calling – will your nonprofit take the call – or put them on hold?

Your first reaction:  of course they will take the call!  But surprisingly, many nonprofits don’t take the call when that new donor is a potential board member.  Is your nonprofit one of the many that isn’t responding promptly to every potential new donor that calls?  How could that even happen?


Potential Board Members should be treated as well as Foundation Donors


Imagine this.  A senior staff or board member of a nonprofit meets a foundation head at a cocktail party.  That foundation head says, “I’d love to learn more about your organization…send me a grant proposal by tomorrow at 5.”  It’s inconceivable that the nonprofit would not respond with a grant proposal within the 24 hours requested.  Inconceivable.


Now imagine a nonprofit being introduced to a terrific board candidate willing to make a similar sized annual donation of money (in addition to the extremely important donation of their intellectual capital).  This is where things fall apart.  In our experience, over half the time, the nonprofit will fail to reach out to the board candidate within a week, let alone 24 hours.  That’s crazy!


Potential board members should be treated as well as foundation donors.  Is there any good reason why this shouldn’t be true at your nonprofit?  Does your nonprofit treat board candidates as well as any other potential donor?


Why are Potential Board Members often not treated as well as any other Donor? 


The three primary reasons we see for why potential board members are not treated as well as other potential donors:


  1. Nonprofits sometimes view their board as a clubby, secret society where new board members need to earn their right to have a seat at the table. If someone wants to give a nonprofit money, terrific, they will take it.  But ask for a seat at the table, and some nonprofits want board candidates to work hard for that privilege.


  1. Nonprofits often have very involved board nomination processes that ultimately hurt board recruiting. It’s fine to have a formal and involved nominating process, perhaps one that requires “buy-in” from the full board before a candidate can move to a vote, but that doesn’t mean the entire process should grind to a halt until that process is complete.


  1. Nonprofits sometimes require approval from one or two specific key players before initiating a board nomination conversation, and that key player may be on vacation for two weeks, or out of touch for some other reason. While this certainly may make sense “on paper,” the reality is that an alternate has to be available at all times to court potential board candidates until that person returns.  Would a nonprofit respond to a foundation head, “our Executive Director is on vacation for two weeks so we sadly cannot respond to your request for a grant proposal by your deadline?”



Board Development is a Competitive Sport…do you want to Win or Lose?


When a nonprofit is focusing on recruiting a particular candidate they need to keep two things in mind:  (i) this candidate has chosen to submit their name for consideration with your nonprofit over the hundreds of other choices that are available to him/her, and (ii) this candidate likely has other boards interested in him/her as well.


Once a nonprofit fully appreciates the above, they can maximize their chances of winning at the board development game.  Nonprofits need to roll out all the charm they would for any other potential donor…be they an individual, corporate or foundation funder.  Even if this candidate is not someone you ultimately want for your board, as noted already, they have chosen your organization over many others.  With a little bit of charm, you may be able to convert this potential board member into a terrific new financial friend of your organization whether they join your board or not.


Final Do’s and Don’ts regarding Potential Board Members


  1. DO remember that merely talking to a potential board member does not mean you need to offer them a board seat. It only means you are potentially creating a new important friendship with someone who is drawn to your work….over the work of hundreds of other nonprofits.


  1. DO always treat potential board members as well as any other potential funder. Get back to them within 24 hours when they call or email. You would with any other funder.  Find someone in your organization who can respond to the board candidate even if your usual board liaison is unavailable.


  1. DON’T refuse to talk to a potential board member until your entire team has “signed off” on them. Have your Development Director or a member of your Nominating Committee begin the process of educating the candidate about your terrific work while you build a coalition.  If your full team does not ultimately decide to add this new board member, your only downside will be that you have created a new friend for your nonprofit.


  1. DON’T forget that nonprofit board development is a competitive sport. The days of clubby, closed boards where everyone had a trust fund are long gone.  Share the story of your good work and welcome potential board members as warmly and enthusiastically as possible.