How to Attract Top Talent to Your Board

Advice from board management strategist Dr. JoyNicole Martinez

The following post on how to attract top talent to your board is contributed by Dr. JoyNicole Martinez, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Alchemist Agency, a management consulting firm serving leading corporations, health care facilities, non-governmental organizations, and not-for-profit corporations.

My first meeting with the Chairwoman was intimidating, and the trepidation created by the people introducing us was intentional. I’d been ‘prepped,’ even ‘warned’ by several board and staff members to keep the conversation concise, make no mention of the budget, and avoid looking her directly in the eye. With a touch of exaggeration in that last bit, the truth is that this team of professionals presented their leader as an ominous threat and not a supportive champion. The fractured board stymied the entire organization’s ability to reach their clients and their goals.

Nonprofit boards, advisory or directive, influence public opinion and internal culture of the organization. Board members can lend credibility to an organization, create opportunities for funding and relationships, and are ultimately entrusted with the duty of loyally caring for the organization. With such consequential responsibilities, how does the nonprofit executive attract high performing talent to its board?

Begin with the end in mind.

This is arguably cliché, but absolutely true. Potential board members look to connect to the philanthropic (as in, problem-solving) results of the organization. Clearly defined strategies can attract board members not previously impassioned by ‘the cause.’ The organization that solely communicates its mission to, “introduce girls to STEM education and opportunities*” may not provoke the potential board member passionate about fighting for income equality or building public-private partnerships for education reform.

*This fictional mission statement does not refer to or characterize any particular organization

The nonprofit leadership study, “The Wake Up Call,” highlights the underuse of nonprofit organizing and strategy documents. This is rather unfortunate; well-constructed documents do more than establish the legal foundation of the organization, they offer an insider’s view and strategy guide for the community-at-large. Communicating the organization’s expected outcomes and the strategies planned to execute them can engender new supporters and expose a new source of potential leadership.

Once you have new listeners, you’ll need to compel them to stay in the audience. 


Be transparent and share your story often.

Nonprofit communication is often minimized into the visual or digital stories or imagery used to provoke an emotional response, prompting an individual to donate in response to their need to help or feel better. There is more to the art of storytelling in the third sector. Unlike conventional corporate messaging, nonprofit leaders must communicate a complex message, incorporating and balancing the social-good aspect of the mission with its financial logic and value.

For the nonprofit, public communications create an overarching narrative that connects the mission to functions of the organization. These communications come in many forms, such as:

  • the website
  • grant applications
  • success stories
  • audits and financial reports
  • an annual report
  • organizing documents
  • board meeting minutes

The narrative created from these public communications preserves and reinforces the mission and drives sustainability; communicating organizational impact while reinforcing culture and purpose. To attract the highest level executives and professionals to your nonprofit board, the storytelling must be transparent, filled with conviction yet balanced by objectivity, and open for critique. Remember, Directors have a fiduciary duty to the organization. The best board members will handle this responsibility with caution and care, evaluating the narrative the company shares with the public before each new chapter is released.

The organizational story is crafted and implemented by the management and leadership, but the board governs its merits and consistency.


Offer clear expectations and defined functions.

Nonprofit consultant Simone Joyaux insists, “Don’t try to recruit candidates without…the job description for each seat…[including] the performance expectations required of every single board member, and how those performances are assessed.” No board recruitment strategy is possibly effective without the ability to match the resources a potential member offers to organizational needs and vacancies. Beyond the standard description of governance and leadership, ensure the documents offer specific guidance on how those roles and functions are filled (meetings, fundraising, donations, etc.). Philanthropists and professionals may have demanding calendars that limit the amount of time for physical meetings, live outside the geographical area of the physical office, and often have commitments to multiple organizations.

To recruit and engage high-level board members ensure:

  • bylaws specify whether meetings can be held virtually and if electronic voting is acceptable;
  • there is clear guidance on identifying conflicts of interest, how they are divulged, and the protocol for remediation;
  • expectations regarding networking (including social media), fundraising and donations, and travel are in the position description; and
  • training and certifications required to maintain board membership are fully divulged.

Bridgespan and BoardSource offer sample descriptions to use as a starting point in writing or evaluation your board position descriptions. The multiple references to the organizing documents are not coincidental. The highest performing organizations have the highest performing boards. To attract top talent to your board of directors, you must prepare your organization to receive and deploy the resources directors bring to the proverbial table. Clearly defined roles, specific guidance regarding execution of functions, and a compelling organizational narrative will attract loyal and dutiful members.

RELATED: How to Embrace Artificial Intelligence as a Nonprofit (also by Dr. JoyNicole Martinez)

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