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Establishing a Nonprofit Organization

Select individuals to serve on the board of directors

The board of directors is the governing body of a nonprofit organization. The responsibilities of the board include discussing and voting on the highest priority issues, setting organizational policies, and hiring and evaluating key staff. Board members are not required to know everything about nonprofit management, but they are expected to act prudently and in the best interests of the organization. They approve operating budgets, establish long-term plans, and carry out fundraising activities.

Finding desirable board members can be a difficult task. A good board member is someone who is interested in the organization's purpose, willing to work within a group, and be in a position to make financial contributions to the organization, or to find others who will. Inviting prominent members of the community to join your board can attract interest, excitement and prestige to the organization. It is also desirable if board members are well known in the field in which the nonprofit organization functions, and it can be extremely beneficial if they have expertise in areas such as real estate, nonprofit law and accounting. For example, having someone on your board who is savvy on real estate matters can be quite helpful when complex issues arise down the road, such as negotiating leases or purchase contracts.

Important points during this process:

  • It is essential that prospective board members be told what is expected of them before they are proposed for election. Asking people to join the board without providing a "job description" is sure to create an ineffective board.
  • Build a board slowly. Proceeding carefully can provide the necessary time for learning why an individual wants to become a board member, and deciding whether his or her agenda is compatible with the organization's.
When building the board, it is important to recruit beyond your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. Often, there is an assumption that professionals and businesspeople will not be sympathetic to the pursuits of a new grassroots organization. Despite these concerns, there are various strategies that can be employed to seek board candidates:
  • Seek out the advice of local funders, such as foundation staff, United Way officials, and government officials who have an interest in your organization's mission
  • Contact executive directors and board officers of large, established nonprofit institutions in your community for their suggestions
  • Speak to religious leaders in your locale to see if they can recommend any candidates, particularly from their own congregations
  • Ask for volunteers at any canvassing efforts, open houses, special events, and benefits that your organization sponsors
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