Getting the Gang Together


Hi Mockingbird friends, 

For the next couple blogs we're going to be focusing on boards (the kind where people donate their time and expertise, not the kind you use to build a deck!). This might seem a little out of the blue for a research and evaluation company, but hear us out. We've been having lots of conversations recently with organizations who are being held back by not getting the most out of their board of directors. Since boards can be a huge asset when it comes to executing a strategic and effective evaluation plan we thought it would helpful to put together a couple of blogs on how to get the most out of your board from recruitment through meetings and beyond. We hope you enjoy this series and can't wait to hear your feedback! (A big thank you to Mockingbird's board members for being the test subjects on these topics for the past year)


“Board of Directors - assemble!” you exclaim with a confident grin, expecting dozens of qualified candidates to emerge, fists aloft in triumph, fully prepared to devote themselves wholeheartedly to your nonprofit. They scramble forth from wherever smart, driven people tend to gather, practically stepping over each other to gain a place on your board.

Your smile fades a little when you’re still standing there, alone, an hour later. Maybe you should make your announcement louder? Or perhaps you ought to stand on a chair? It’s a well-known fact that the more elevated you are, the more important you sound.

Unfortunately, as you may realize when you finally retire from your task, your voice hoarse from shouting, recruiting board members is not quite as easy as you’d hoped. So how do you put together the optimal board of directors to support your nonprofit?

Think Positive: Look for positive people. No, you don’t want to be surrounded by “yes men,” but a smile is always welcome during long meetings or tough times, especially when you’re just starting out. Find outgoing, supportive, and curious people who can articulate their opinions and aren’t afraid to kindly disagree with you or your fellow board members.

Recruit with a Purpose: Make a list of potential candidates, and note their strengths as well as potential networks they could bring to the table. Think about how each board member will lend something new and different to the nonprofit, and consider how he or she will affect the group dynamic. Look to people you respect professionally, bright thinkers with bold voices, and those with unique skill sets. Approach each person individually and explain the story of your nonprofit and why you think they’d be a good fit. Don’t be afraid of getting turned down – you’ll never know unless you ask!

The Numbers Game: Consider how many people you need on your board. It may seem to make sense to surround yourself with as many experts, supporters, and connections to networks as possible, particularly in your first year. However, make sure your board is of a manageable size for you – you’ll be checking in on your team regularly, and it’s a lot easier to engage and keep track of 5 people than 20. Also, be sure everyone’s aware of the time and support commitment you expect before any contracts are signed!

It’s Business Time: When you’re coming up with a list of names, you might find that good friends appear near the top. While working alongside friends may seem ideal, remember that you’ll need to separate your professional life from your personal life. Can you put aside a heated discussion with your bestie at a board meeting to go out for fancy popsicles afterward? That’s the kind of relationship you’ll need to develop. And yes, apparently fancy popsicles are a thing.

Alas, the “shouting from atop a chair” method probably won’t work – though if it does, let me know, and also, can I borrow your chair? Magical chairs notwithstanding, go forth and mine your contacts list, or ask that friend of a friend for her opinion, or take a chance and send an email to the acquaintance for whom you have tons of respect. 

Once you’ve assembled your ideal squad, and they’re all within shouting distance, go ahead and put out the call – you’ll know that a qualified, dedicated group will come running, a group you trust with the fate of your nonprofit.  Sit down to your first meeting, and commence utter greatness. It will also help if you have cookies available. Just trust me on that one.