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LinkedIn Board Connect: A Guide for Non-profits to Leverage This Valuable New Resource

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LinkedIn Board Connect has taken online board matching to a new level for non-profit organizations. As I noted in my September 21 post here, this innovative approach is an advance in bringing non-profits and potential candidates together; the most important improvement is the opportunity for people to learn about each other through mutual acquaintances and references that are indicated on LinkedIn.

In my last post, I provided suggestions to board candidates for finding the best board match. Here are recommendations for non-profits in finding board members that best meet the organization's purposes.

Choosing candidates for the board

  1. Prior to even listing the organization's interests in candidates, it's essential for the board to have a serious discussion about the future of the organization: the organization's greater potential and the revenue model to achieve success. With this in mind, the board can determine the particular skills, expertise, experience, diversity of perspectives, and networks and relationships that the board needs in order to achieve strategic and financial success.
  2. Additionally, have a board discussion about the role of the board in achieving success, and articulate your expectations of individual board members, including board meeting attendance; financial contributions and fundraising; committee participation, etc. That way, you are prepared to discuss expectations with candidates. (Be sure your board members are meeting expectations as well, so that you are setting the right example for new board members.)
  3. Once you list your interests for candidates, then research prospective candidates via LinkedIn Board Connect with your specific needs in mind.
  4. Interview each board candidate -- first by phone, and then in person -- to determine if there's a match between their interests and your board's needs. The organization's CEO, board chair, board governance chair, and perhaps additional board members should be involved in at least a couple of meetings with the board candidate.
  5. The people whom LinkedIn identifies as mutual acquaintances are potential sources of reference regarding each board candidate you are considering.
  6. Host a visit with the board candidate at program sites. This provides an opportunity to explore the extent of the candidate's passion for the mission.
  7. Ascertain the extent to which the candidate can and will meet the board's expectations in addition to providing particular values that will help the board and organization to advance toward success.

Attracting the candidates you want

In today's environment, the most desirable candidates have a choice of boards to join. In order to attract the candidates you most want, and also set the stage for a positive relationship, here are some recommendations:

  1. Be clear about what you are asking candidates to do. In my experience having placed hundreds of corporate executives on non-profit boards, the question that most interests them is this: What value can I add?
  2. Also be clear about your expectations for giving, fundraising, and meeting attendance. People appreciate your candor up front.
  3. Provide clear information about the organization's mission, programs, and financials, in addition to the most recent audit and management letter, and a copy of the bylaws.
  4. Be candid and open about organizational challenges and opportunities and ways in which the board can be useful.
  5. If there is a strategic plan, provide it.

Retaining the best board members

Once you have recruited the board members you want, there are ways to keep them engaged and maximize the value of their participation. Here are suggestions:

  1. Provide the board with clear, relevant, timely, and concise information. This means creating a dashboard that shows how the organization is performing against program and financial goals.
  2. Under the leadership of the chair and the CEO, engage with the board to decide how the board can be most useful in helping the organization to achieve its greatest potential over the course of the next few years; and help each board member to understand how he or she can add value.
  3. Ensure that board meetings are focused on key strategic issues and the role of the board in advancing the organization towards its greatest potential. Make sure that each board meeting ends with board members having been engaged in an interactive discussion on an important strategy issue, better educated on the work of the organization, inspired, and clear about the work they need to do between then and the next board meeting.
  4. Provide high quality staff support to make it easy for board members to make valuable contributions -- in making financial gifts, fundraising, providing expertise, etc. It's worth the investment.

LinkedIn is providing a valuable new resource to non-profits and prospective board candidates. With some time and attention, LinkedIn Board Connect can be leveraged for tremendous value in strengthening our nation's non-profit sector.