Recruiting a dream board member: Thoughts from JVA’s Executive Director Academy Panel

by Katie McCune, JVA Consulting

April 11 marked the beginning of JVA’s eighth Executive Director Academy (EDA). As part of the academy, JVA convened local nonprofit leaders in a “Genius Bar” to share their insight and experiences. Panelists included Alyssa Kopf of Community Shares of Colorado, Kay Ramachandran of Urban Peak, Kevin Shipley of Second Wind Fund of Metro Denver and Meg Allen of the Denver Coalition for Integration. Kevin and Meg were both past EDA participants.

JVA’s Janine Vanderburg facilitated a discussion among the Genius Bar panelists on questions ranging from how to recruit a “dream board” to how to get the board and staff on board for major changes. The panelists’ diverse experiences provided some really interesting insight.

Here are their thoughts on how to recruit a dream board member:

When asked about how to recruit for the perfect board, Alyssa started the discussion with a great metaphor, “Like the saying goes in Hawaii that you never turn your back to the ocean, you never turn your back on your board.” Calling board recruitment both and art and a science, she went on to say that it is essential for the executive director to know what their organization needs out of their board members and to lay these expectations out in the very beginning. She recommends utilizing matrices for the board outlining the life experiences of board members (e.g., military background, being a single parent), in addition to their skill sets. “You also have to keep an open mind” about what someone might be able to bring to the table.

Everyone stressed how important it is to be intentional about who you want and need on the board, and to deliberately identify on an ongoing basis the particular skills and expertise the organization will need to meet its future needs.

Meg and Kevin echoed the importance of being upfront in recruitment and said that an executive director should never downplay the commitment of being a board member for fear of scaring off a potential member, and said it’s better to steer them away before a commitment is made. Kay added this is especially important with regards to the board chair because, “there is nothing scarier than a scary chair.”

Meg and Alyssa also emphasized the importance of always developing board members. Meg suggested having potential board members serve as committee members, volunteers, etc. before asking them to be on the board to see if they are a good fit for the organization. Similarly, Alyssa shared that she believes people should be involved with an organization for at least two years before becoming a board member, and shared her secret to a great board: She always has a list of prospective board members in a pipeline. Above all, everybody stressed the importance of finding board members that are passionate about the organization, who want to be on the board and who are willing to “roll up their sleeves.”

We will be posting more about what our panel had to say throughout the week.

To learn more about EDA and JVA’s other trainings visit

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