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What Makes a Good Nonprofit Board and How to Build Yours

The effectiveness of your nonprofit board is a huge determinant of the success of your entire organization and its mission. Governance, oversight, and strategic planning are among the core responsibilities of this group of fiduciaries. As such, finding board members with the right mix of talent, experience, and passion for your cause is paramount.

As you search for, identify, and interview potential nonprofit board members, take the following steps to ensure you’re setting the right expectations and evaluating each candidate effectively.

Define a shared and well-understood nonprofit mission statement

The first step to creating an effective nonprofit board is making sure your mission statement is clear, well defined, and detailed. Think of your mission statement as an opportunity to unite all of your board members around a common goal.

Nonprofit Hub has a lot of information on how to create an impactful nonprofit mission statement and even offers several good and bad examples. A strong mission statement conveys three key pieces of information about the nonprofit organization:

  1. The cause: What is the issue you’re trying to solve and why do you care about it?

  2. The action: What are you doing to improve the cause?

  3. The result: What do you hope these actions will achieve?

As you write your mission statement, seek feedback from both your peers and the communities you serve. The final statement should balance brevity with specificity and detail. 

When prospective board members see that you know exactly what you want to accomplish and why, they’ll be inspired (and equipped) to help more.

Cultivate diverse and necessary perspectives for the nonprofit board

The National Council of Nonprofits points out that diversity on nonprofit boards leads to many benefits: better decision making, better connections and networking opportunities, better skill coverage, and — most importantly — a more insightful, well-rounded board.

It’s especially important to have representatives of the communities you work with on your nonprofit board. For example, if you are a nonprofit working in racial equity and justice, it’s vital to have people of color on your board, while a disability advocacy program’s board should include people with disabilities. These board members can provide first-hand insights that are invaluable for helping your organization better understand the people you serve.

Prescreen potential candidates with thoughtful questions

When it comes to recruiting talent for nonprofits, particular lines of questioning are especially useful for exploring value alignment. It’s essential to have people at the helm of your organization who care deeply about its cause and are invested in its goals.

An illustration of two people sitting opposite one another at a table. Both are holding cups of coffee. A speech bubble above them shows a picture of a globe, indicating that they are discussing the planet.

In prescreening nonprofit board candidates, ask why your nonprofit’s mission resonates with them, and how their skills and experience make them uniquely positioned to help move it forward. Questions about their vision for the organization and its future will be especially key, because board members play such a pivotal role in shaping this future.

Recruit for the specific board member skills you need

As you search for potential board members, look beyond previous experience and job titles and consider the skills each individual can bring to your organization. 

Consider creating a skills “wish list” by writing down every skill you think needs to be represented on your board — such as fundraising, public speaking, grant writing, finance management, or strategic planning — then actively seek out candidates that possess these skills.

LinkedIn Recruiter can help you identify and reach out to candidates with the right mix of skills and passion. You can search LinkedIn members by filtering for demographics, work experience, and specific skill sets. You can even search for candidates who mention specific keywords on their profile that suggest an interest in your cause.

When you find a good match, reach out to the member directly via InMail (direct messages available with LinkedIn Recruiter) and explain why you want to work with them. The ideal board member for your nonprofit may not be actively seeking opportunities, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be open to hearing about them.

For more tips on how to create an effective nonprofit board, subscribe to the LinkedIn for Nonprofits blog.