The Board of Directors is a key pipeline for resources for any US nonprofit organization. Most nonprofits do not pay Board members for their service, so organizations rely upon dedicated volunteers.
A common expression within the nonprofit industry is that potential Board members should have time, talent, or treasure to contribute to the organization. Not all Board members need to offer all three contributions. If they have more than one, even better, but organizations should look for directors that can offer at least one of those three inputs.
Time. Volunteers for an organization, including members of the Board of Directors, typically give generously of their time. From attending Board meetings to serving on committees to participating in events and running special projects, volunteers are often the lifeblood of an organization. No matter whether the person is a busy full-time working parent or a full-time retiree with time to spare, the question is how much time and commitment the person is willing to give to this organization. It is certainly possible to have a Board member whose primary contribution is not volunteer time, but each potential Board member must at least commit to attending Board meetings and being able to perform proper oversight of the organization as required by the role.
Talent. Some people have specific skills, experiences, or perspectives that make them particularly useful to a nonprofit organization as a Board member. For example, a community garden nonprofit may benefit from having a horticulturalist on its Board. Do not assume, however, that a potential Board member is willing to contribute their “day job” skills for free to the organization without having a conversation on point first—a professional web designer may or may not be willing to be the nonprofit’s webmaster. Lawyers, accountants, and business consultants are in frequent demand for nonprofit Boards, but any organization considering inviting a new Board member on the basis of their profession is well-advised to first confirm the person’s willingness and availability to provide those services to the organization. Note that having a lawyer on a Board of Directors does not on its own create an attorney-client relationship between the lawyer and the entity.
Treasure. Nonprofit Boards often rely on their Board members for fundraising and financial support for the organization, either through direct donations or connections to the Board members’ personal networks. This is valuable to the organization because most of its operations depend on sufficient funding, even in an all-volunteer organization. Potential Board members bring a lot to the table if they can make significant contributions personally, connect the organization to other people or corporations who are likely to donate, or facilitate meaningful in-kind donations relevant to the organization’s work. Organizations should be clear with potential Board members about fundraising expectations before the person joins the Board. If there’s a specific dollar amount a Board member is expected or encouraged to raise, make it explicit. Practices range widely. Some organizations say nothing about fundraising and are simply grateful for whatever efforts Board members make on that front. At the other end of the spectrum, some large nonprofits have a stated expectation that each Board member contribute a specified amount per year to the organization to support its mission. Others might have a suggested or requested amount per year per Board member, which can be met through direct donations, friends and family contributions, or in-kind donations. Requiring, encouraging, suggesting, or requesting contributions from potential Board members can significantly help the organization’s financial sustainability, but it can also prove a barrier to Board membership for otherwise great candidates.
If a potential Board member offers neither time nor talent nor treasure, the organization should take a hard look at why this person is being considered for the position. Organizations need to take care when adding a Board member and remember that this person will have legally binding voting authority. When adding or removing directors, organizations should follow their bylaws and applicable law, and should keep in mind the overall size of the Board and its ability to carry out its oversight responsibilities. For information about the right size for a nonprofit Board, see Too Small, Too Big, Just Right: The Goldilocks Size for a Nonprofit Board.
In conclusion, strong nonprofits are led by committed Boards. Good Board members lend a wealth of resources to a nonprofit organization, whether through the time they spend on the organization’s work, the talents and skills they bring to the table, or the financial stability they can help create. Taking the time to evaluate the contributions of existing and potential Board members can help any organization meet its goals and ensure a sustainable future.
Last reviewed: December 21, 2022