Unconventional Board Members: Why Your Organization Needs Them

A diverse, high functioning board serves your organization best. Unfortunately, over time most boards become increasingly homogenous. Many boards end up with a group of successful professionals (good) who all have the same strengths and skill sets (not so good). Without diversity and fresh insight, it is difficult to come up with new ideas and to adapt and move forward. Broadening your horizons and considering unconventional board members with other specialties and backgrounds can pay off in surprising ways.

Do You Need an Unconventional Board Member?

How can you tell you need to court some fresh board talent? Look around the table at your next meeting. If everyone has a similar look, age or background, you might need to investigate. Ensure you are truly gaining the benefit of an active and diverse membership. If every member of your board is a lawyer (and you are not a legal organization), you are missing out on the insight of creatives, accountants and other skilled contributors. A few of the different unconventional board members to consider are outlined below. Consider how they can add new life and fresh perspective to your board.

RELATED: Boardroom Culture Shift: From Soiree to Serious


creative board member

The Creative

So many board members tend to come from the same verticals– law, accounting and business. While this type of experience is crucial, adding a few creative professionals to your board can pay off in surprising ways. Whether you need creative ways to stretch a budget, clever ideas for a new campaign, or to look at an existing problem in a fresh way, the addition of a writer, graphic designer, or other creative pro will be a huge asset. As a bonus, these members can often fulfill their board requirements in practical ways, from reviewing campaigns to giving a final edit to your annual appeal letter.

The Down-to-Earth Professional

Boards formed for youthful organizations or those focused on creative arts may be comprised of artists and creatives. That means a steady flow of ideas, but not a lot of organization. Adding a few down-to-earth professionals to your board can help rein in all those ideas and allow you to focus. This moves you forward as a group and grounds your ideas in reality. You’ll get more done with a few less creative, more logical brains on your board.

The Millennial

Because of the need for experience and extensive networks, boards tend to have an older average age. Incorporating a successful member under the age of 30 could create added insight for your team. If you are targeting this age group for donations or support, having a digital native on your team is a huge plus. It will serve you well when you want to reach out to other millennials in your community. Additionally, as Millennials mature in their professional trajectories, soon they won’t even be unconventional board members.

The Volunteer

If your organization relies on volunteers, then a longtime, successful volunteer who can speak about the needs of your helpers and those you rely on is invaluable. You may be using guesswork to determine what is needed to help this group serve your organization best. Having a direct source of information is far superior and will yield better results.

RELATED: Guide: Recruit Nonprofit Volunteers

The Community Spokesperson

Who does your organization serve? Someone from that community or group should be on your board if possible. You will do more good if the targets of your efforts are represented. For example, if you set up a dog food drive for your local shelter, but then discover they really need cat food, you’ll have done a lot of work but not served the greatest need. Someone from the actual organizations or communities you wish to serve can help ensure your efforts have maximum impact and that they help the intended communities and individuals.

A look at your existing board and some thought about diversity can help the next time you have an opening. It can also give you an idea of the members who might bring additional insight and direction to your organization. By considering unconventional board members and thinking “outside the box” you can create a lively and focused team to best serve your community or recipients.

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