Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Whether you’re just starting a nonprofit or you’re in the process of rebuilding your board, choosing the right board members is crucial to the success of your organization.

Let’s look at the who, what and whys of putting together your organization’s board of directors.

Why does a nonprofit need a board of directors?

It’s a legal requirement, to start with. A nonprofit is a corporation, and just like for-profits, they must be governed by a board that’s independent of the founders. The board has the responsibility of hiring and firing the CEO or executive director; even if a nonprofit has a very small staff, it must still have a board.

Who should be on the board?

Founding board members typically know the founder/director of the organization and are passionate about its cause. They may be a group of individuals who all came together to help launch the organization. Overall, the best board members are people who are committed to the organization’s mission and are willing to give time and energy to help it succeed. You want people on your board who are interested in more than attending a monthly meeting or an annual fundraiser.

How many board members do I need?

The state that you incorporate in will set the guidelines for the minimum number of board members, but a typical minimum number is three. The size beyond the minimum depends on what the organization needs from its board.

How should I choose board members?

Depending on your organization’s mission, it’s helpful to form a board with members who have a mix of core competencies that could include financial, marketing, technical, legal and social service skills. Of course, not every member needs to be a professional. You may want to include others from the community, including someone who’s benefiting from your services, a loyal volunteer who’s gone above and beyond, a local celebrity or someone with valuable media connections.

What responsibilities do board members have?

Specific duties vary from from one organization to the next, but in general, a board of directors determines the vision and direction for the organization. The board sets policies while staff members implement those policies. Board members hire the executive director while the ED hires the rest of the staff and runs the organization. Also, board members are typically expected to support the organization financially as well as help raise funds.

Are you currently looking for new board members? These five tips may help you get the best ones for your nonprofit.

  1. Remember that the competition may be stiff. Depending on where you live, many of the best candidates may have several boards going after them. Make your best impression by being as responsive, professional and courteous as possible throughout the courting process.
  2. Treat each candidate as if he is one of your biggest donors. First, if he isn’t already, he may actually become one. Even if he doesn’t, he may have lucrative connections. But mostly, if someone is worthy of a seat on your board, that person is clearly a valuable resource and trusted friend of your organization. Be respectful, transparent and appreciative of what he could bring to your nonprofit while you’re interviewing or courting him to come aboard.
  3. Set your expectations. Most candidates want to know they can be agents of change if they join a board, but at the same time, they have lives that include work, family and other time commitments. Be upfront about expectations and commitments from the get-go, like frequency of board meetings, locations and times and committee responsibilities. Most people will want to be sure they can handle the time commitment and still enjoy a good work/life balance.
  4. Be honest about the state of your organization. If you’re a large, established nonprofit, how can you make sure new board members will be able to find a way to engage and make a difference? If you are a startup, how professionally is your board functioning and what steps are necessary to improve how it operates? You want your candidates to know exactly what they’re getting into, or they may feel like it was a bait-and-switch deal.
  5. Toot your horn. Share some amazing stories and your best metrics. Talk about your success stories. Tell potential board members not just about your challenges or opportunities for growth, but also about what you’re doing well and right. Recruiting new board members involves a bit of a sales pitch, so don’t shy away from bragging a little and painting your organization in the most positive light possible—as long as you’re being honest.

Once you’ve established the best board possible, you want them to function at the top of their game. Believe it or not, your website can be a key tool for your board members to provide a centralized location for board minutes, meeting agendas, secure documents and more. Firespring offers beautiful websites and the essential tools nonprofits need to run their day-to-day operations. Start your free trial at or call 877.447.8941 to learn more.