A Surprisingly Easy Place to Find GREAT Board Members

A Surprisingly Easy Place to Find GREAT Board Members

In the last several years, I have met more than a few land trusts whose board directors did not support the organization financially – at least not 100%. Membership for these organizations starts around $35, but these directors weren’t even doing that.

How does this happen?

Or put another way, why do we ask people who do not support the organization to assume leadership positions and serve on the board?

I think it’s a problem of recruiting strategy.

We allow organizations to be led by the “most likely available” instead of the “passionately supportive.” After all, the passionately supportive might not be available in the moment. (They might be engaged on other boards.) Maybe we’ve never met them. And anyway, asking people we know, and know are available, is much easier even if they have never before shown much interest.

Shouldn’t we be willing to take the time to meet – and cultivate – passionate supporters?

Like one brain surgeon said to another: “C’mon, it’s not rocket science!”

1. Let’s consider for a moment what we ask board members to do:

  • Attend as many as twelve meetings each year (and that’s not to mention committee meetings!), often in the evenings and often lasting more than three hours,
  • Lead groups of volunteers on stewardship work parties, member field trips, and fundraising events,
  • Represent the organization, in good times and bad, in public,
  • Take personal responsibility for the organization’s financial health,
  • Give money in amounts that show leadership to others, and
  • Raise money.

2. Why would anyone do this? Why would anyone agree to do this?

  • Because they are passionate about the mission, and
  • Because they believe that this is the right organization to get it done.

3. Keeping in mind that “actions speak louder than words,” how might we know that a person is passionate enough about the organization?

  • Because they show their passion through their current giving.


4. Why look for good board members outside your current membership before looking inside?


“But David,” comes the reply, “Can’t people show their passion through their volunteer work?”

Sure, as long as they know that we need and expect board directors to be community leaders, and this includes giving of their time and giving of their money – BOTH.

The easiest way to see this is to consider the opposite circumstance. Suppose someone were willing to give their money but never their time. “I’ll give you money periodically, but don’t ever ask me to come to a meeting or volunteer on a project.” Would you consider asking this person to be a board director? I rest my case.

People should not give money to an organization because they serve on the board. They should give money because they believe in the work enough to give money. Doing so shows the kind of passion for the mission that inspires others – especially other donors. Seems like a minimum requirement for board service to me.


Photo credit: Banana Palms, courtesy of C. Miko Dargitz.

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  • Karen Cornelius
    Posted at 11:37h, 11 July

    Hi David! I like the blog…. when I was still at TNC, our development committee chair wrote to board members who had not given and told them she would make a donation in their name so we could have 100% participation. It usually worked!

  • Brandi Ferguson
    Posted at 16:36h, 10 July

    In the past we could say that, we were recruiting new Board members that were not current supporters. But now our Board culture has shifted – thank you David. All Board members are now giving in a significant way and wow, it sure makes that ask of support by Board members a lot easier if they are writing a check themselves.

    Hope to see you at Rally!


    • David Allen
      Posted at 17:17h, 10 July

      It makes a huge difference – just psychologically – having board members who relate to donors as an “us” rather than a “them.” Thanks, Brandi.

  • Johanna Garsenstein
    Posted at 12:24h, 10 July

    I really enjoyed this as well as the pocket change post because you address the tough issues head on. For the staffers at not for profit conservancies, it is difficult (impossible?) to hold Board members to their obligations – Board members are, after all, their bosses. However, I plan to share these blogs with Board members themselves as that is where real change and accountability will happen. Thanks for sharing these great pieces David

    • David Allen
      Posted at 15:09h, 10 July

      Thanks for the comment, Johanna. Indeed it was a rather major AHA! moment for me to realize that staff cannot hold board members accountable. If (reluctant) board members are going to help build relationships with donors, they will need to be held accountable by their peers, not the staff members who work for them. The cultural conditions for this to occur aren’t always present, making change difficult.