It seems like the worst of Catch-22's.
We know that a board should be comprised of people who feel passion for our
mission. But if the organization is brand new and doesnt have a following
of passionate people, where does one start?
The method many start-up organizations
use for that first board is to ask friends, family, and extended family to be
their first board. For a small school, for example, extended family might
include the parents of those first few students. What results is a small,
close-knit group that, in the beginning, is both exciting and frustrating. And
we figure thats the way its supposed to be.
There is another way. Its a way
that allows for you to create a strong, community-based board from the
If your organization already has that
start-up board in place, dont fret. It is never too late to implement the
methods that follow.
First, lets look at why
its not such a great idea to simply put your friends and family on the
board. Then lets look at how to recruit a GREAT board from the start.
Friends and Family Can Hurt Your Organization
It may seem logical during start-up
time to recruit the people we know and trust, but that simple step can cause
serious problems for your organization in both the short term and the long
In the short term, stacking a
board with friends and family will make it VERY difficult to attract unrelated
board members - the kind that can really help move the organization forward.
With every organization in town competing for good board members, your board
will not be as attractive to those prospects as a board that is comprised of a
broad spectrum of the community.
This problem is a particular caution
for small nonprofit or charter schools, who tend to fill their initial board
with parents of students. These boards often become more of a PTA than a real
governing board. Years after they could consider themselves a
start-up, these boards complain that even when they do attract a
non-parent to the board, those new board members usually leave in frustration
that the board cant get past acting like a PTA. And that cycle continues,
on and on.
So its best not to start
something that will make it harder to recruit the kinds of board members you
really want - the kind that will build the kind of board you want your board to
The second reason it is a bad
idea to recruit friends and family is that it creates a long term problem -
what is often called a Founders Board. A Founders Board
is a board that isnt really governing the organization - they are leaving
that to you, the founder. Instead, that board is rubber stamping what you think
should be done. After all, these are your family and friends. They want to
support your efforts. They are certainly not there to create family feuds by
suggesting you might not be right! (This is one of the many reasons unrelated
board members will steer clear of a family-based board.)
A rubber-stamping Founders Board
may make things easier for the founder in the short term, but it is unhealthy
for the organization in the long term. Why? Its simple: What if something
happens to you? The organization wont have a board that can continue to
ensure the mission is accomplished.
Two Steps To
Creating a Great Board
There are 2 steps you can take now
that can help prevent these problems from occurring down the road, helping you
to ensure you will have a board that can do the job from the start. These are
pre-recruitment steps that should be taken prior to the actual recruitment
process, simply because yours is a new board.
The first step will help you find a
pool of potential board members. The second is a GREAT way to avoid
Founders Board, allowing the organization to begin its life from a
position of strength, right out of the chute.
Potential Board Members
The question of finding potential
board members is just like the question of finding funding. If youre new,
how do you attract folks who can help?
Fortunately, the answer is the same
for both. And that answer comes long before you file your 501(c)(3) papers. It
comes long before your first grant request.
It starts with a feasibility study.
A feasibility study will answer the
big questions that most board members AND funders will want to know.
- Should this organization even exist?
- Is there demand for the service we want to
- Is there already something like this in our
- Could we find similar efforts to collaborate with,
to make the whole stronger than we could ever be alone? If so, who would they
be? And what should we know about them?
- What could our organization accomplish that maybe
we havent even thought about?
- Who would be likely to help us?
- And lots more - you are probably thinking of more
questions right now!
The key to using the feasibility
process to find supporters is to get the answers to those questions from anyone
who might know about the issue you will be addressing. Government leaders and
potential recipients of your services. Seemingly competing
organizations and local philanthropists. Talk to anyone who might have an
interest in what you are trying to do. And when you are done with each session,
ask that person to recommend others you might talk to, who would also have an
interest in your plans.
You will be surprised how easy it is
to get in the door to talk with folks when ALL you want from them is their
wisdom. DONT ask for money. DONT ask them to volunteer or to sit on
the board. Just ask them for their advice, their years of experience, their
At the end of this process,
heres what you will have:
- A ton more information than you had before, upon
which to base all the rest of your plans.
- A list of people who have been ignited by your
ideas, who want to help you make it all happen!
Those are the people to consider for
the pool of prospective board members as you begin the recruitment process.
|For more on the recruitment process
How to Avoid
a Founders Board
As the founder, you will obviously be
the one to choose the first few board members, simply because there is no one
else to do it! If you choose from the group you have spoken with during your
feasibility work, you will have a great group to start with.
Once you have recruited the first few
board members, though, there is a way to avoid stacking the whole board with
And that is for you as the founder to
only recruit HALF the board members you will need. (As an example, if your
board will eventually have 12 members, you will only recruit 6 or less of those
board members. If you intend to be a board member yourself, count yourself in
Then leave it up to the board to
recruit the rest of the board! Have them go through a solid recruitment process
and they will choose from people THEY know, rather than the people YOU know!
|For more on the recruitment process
Through this 2-step process, you will
be creating a new board of directors that is really amazing from the start.
Your board wont look like a start-up board, because they will be a
broad-based coalition, and not simply members of your family. (Note
to schools: Interpret Family to mean Parents.)
It takes more time to do it this way.
But as the founder of a nonprofit
organization myself, I know the most important legacy I can leave my community
is an organization that can live without me if something happens to me. And in
my mind, that always makes it worth the extra time and effort to do it right.