The Secret Place to Find GREAT Board Members

The Secret Place to Find GREAT Board Members


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


One of the most basic consulting products I offer for land trusts is an assessment of the current state of their fundraising systems. And one of the metrics I look at is the percentage of annual funding that comes from the Board of Directors as a whole. Over the last several years, I’ve probably done several dozens of these assessments.

A surprisingly common finding is that not all Board members give money to the organization. Membership starts around $35, but these Directors aren’t even doing that. They are members of the Board of Directors and they do not support the organization financially.

At all.

A not-so-surprisingly common finding is that these same Board members find it difficult to help the organization raise money.

If you are such a person, please do not take offense. Nearly to a person, these same Board directors are very fine people. They are diligent, hard-working, and support the mission is many other ways.

Just not financially.


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?

(There is actually a parallel finding related to Board members whose giving history starts after they have accepted their Board position. Same question, though.)


I think it’s a problem of recruiting strategy.

We tend to recruit at the last minute. We tend to recruit people we know. We tend to recruit the “most likely available” instead of the “most passionately supportive.” After all, the most passionately supportive might not be available in the moment. (They might be engaged on other boards.) Maybe we’ve never even met them.

And anyway, asking people we know, and know are available, is much easier, even if they have never before shown enough interest to donate $35.

But where would we find the most passionately supportive?

The secret is to look within your membership first. This implies at least three things:

  • That we have thought about Board recruitment months and even years in advance,
  • That we have taken the time and energy to get to know our members and donors, and
  • That the first step in recruiting someone who does not yet support the organization is to ask them to join at $35. (If they won’t do at least that, it tells you a lot.)


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!


Follow me here:

Consider 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, publicly
  • Take personal responsibility for the organization’s financial health
  • Give money in amounts that show leadership to others, and
  • Raise money.


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.


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.



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.

People who give time and not money are VOLUNTEERS. People who give money and not time are DONORS. We need BOARD MEMBERS to do both.

In fact, the easiest way to see this is to consider the opposite circumstance. Suppose someone was 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.


One more quick point: 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.


Cheers, and have a great week.




Photo by Mike Erskine courtesy of


Much of this post was originally published in July of 2014.

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  • Jill Boullion
    Posted at 08:34h, 10 July

    We are currently recruiting board candidates and this is a good reminder to always look within first. Since we’ve rebuilt our committee structure our board member pipeline is healthier. One place that I’ve found can be effective in looking outside the organization is to reach out to people who have gone through community leadership programs. They are typically looking to develop the skills to serve on non-profit boards.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:23h, 10 July

      Love the suggestion about reaching out to people who have gone through community leadership programs. Many of them will have the knowledge and skill to govern effectively. Hopefully they will also have the demonstrable interest in the conservation mission.

      And that’s really the point: The first step in recruiting someone to the Board is to invite them to support the organization financially. Not as a quid pro quo, but rather as tangible evidence that they support the mission and the work. If they can’t or won’t, or won’t until you offer them a Board position, you might be risking them wanting to be on the Board for the wrong reasons.