5 Steps to Create a Robust Board Member Pipeline

by Suzanne Battit

Senior Vice President, Principal

Posted October 13, 2022

An effective board can’t be stagnant. To ensure your organization’s board strength, it’s important to continuously build a robust pipeline of prospective members. Here are 5 steps to do so:

1. Take stock of your current board.

It will be important to first identify the functional skills, industry expertise, and backgrounds that your ideal board would possess. Once you have completed this matrix, consider your current board and ask yourself, “Where are the gaps?” This is a question you and your Nominating Committee should be asking yourselves on an annual basis, at minimum.

2. Now that you have identified any gaps, create a list of target board members who could help meet your needs – and get creative.

Prospective board members can come from a variety of sources. While it’s natural (and good practice) to start with people already known to the organization or existing board members (e.g., volunteers, donors, etc.), you should also think broader to ensure a robust pipeline.

  • Tip: Think about corporations that support the organization. Do these corporations have any mid- or senior-level employees who may be seeking board seats? This is often the case, especially when it comes to financial institutions. If so, pursuing them can be a great way to deepen the organization’s relationship with the corporation, while providing both groups with a mutual benefit.

3. Share your list of names with the Nominating Committee so they can strategize next steps (which should be customized).

If the prospective board member is relatively new to your organization…

  • Perhaps this person has engaged with your organization in some way, but not on the level of a potential board member (yet). For instance, perhaps they recently attended an event, made an unsolicited gift, expressed interest in volunteering, and/or belong to an existing member’s social network.
  • If this is the case, you will need to find a way to engage them and increase their involvement. This could be done a variety of ways, including by:
    • Inviting them to join a specialized committee – this is a great way to get a sense of their engagement and contributions, and prime them for the more substantial responsibilities of becoming a board member 1-2 years down the road.
    • Welcoming them as a volunteer – volunteering offers the prospective member an opportunity to better understand your mission and culture, while deepening their passion for your organization’s cause.
    • Cultivating them for a specific donation – this often brings the prospect closer to the organization and deepens their passion for the mission in preparation for joining the board.
  • In addition to finding opportunities to increase their engagement, it will be important to take the time to get to know the prospective member better. This could take the form of a formal meeting with their relationship manager (if they are already a managed prospect) or a more informal get-together. Either way, focus on gaining a better understanding of their interests and commitment.

If the prospective board member is already engaged with your organization…

  • If the prospective board member is already an active volunteer and/or donor, the cultivation process can be shorter and quicker. Be purposeful and strategic in broaching the subject with them; the relationship manager can ask if they are interested in having a conversation about joining the board in the future.

4. Once you have built a strong board, it’s important to keep it fresh.

To do this, there needs to be formal term limits – and this is true no matter the size of your board. A couple things to keep in mind:

  • Term limits can take many forms—e.g., some nonprofits limit board members to three two-year terms while other nonprofits limit members to two three-year terms.
  • If you’re concerned about losing a very strong board member due to term limits, keep in mind that they can always rejoin the board after taking a year off.

If you have term limits, keep track of when members will be exiting – and what gaps that will leave. This brings us back to our second step; you will need to target prospective members with similar experience and/or skills.

5. Lastly, take advantage of any opportunity to promote your board publicly.

By actively promoting your board’s involvement and influence on the organization—whether this be on your website, on social media, in your newsletter, in print materials, and/or at events—you will naturally attract prospective members who wish to contribute on the same level.


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