Three Must-Read Tips for Building a Successful Board of Directors for Your Association

Three Must-Read Tips for Building a Successful Board of Directors for Your Association

If you manage an association or participate in recruiting board members for your organization, you know that finding the right people is crucial to the success of your mission. However, handling board turnover or building a new board from scratch can be vexing for many associations. Here are our board-building tips for the most favorable association board results.

Decide what you want your board to do before filling positions.

Does your organization have a board in name only? If your board members are simply lending their cachet to your organization or not performing assumed tasks, it might not be entirely their fault.

Before bringing on new board members, offer a job description so that expectations are realistic on both sides. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are resources available to offer you a template on which to build. It may be fine to have some prestigious board members who don’t do the grunt work that d other members do, but you need to spell that out from the start and think about board titles that make this clear to working members, such as “Honorary Board Member” or “Member At-Large.

Think carefully about your organization’s needs before adding new members to your board, and consider how they will contribute. Many boards have a financial expert, an attorney, someone with technical knowledge, a marketing/advertising guru, etc., but your activities may make it vital to include other specialties, such as those from the medical establishment or local media.

Set terms for your board of directors.

Part of the job description for each board position should include the term(s) that the member is expected to serve, as with elected public officials. Just because you are a nonprofit organization doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach your board like a for-profit business. Consider optimal turnover rates for board roles, especially the director’s position, and set a limit for the number of terms that a member can serve in order to bring fresh ideas to the board periodically. Be sure to stagger your board terms, so your entire board doesn’t turn over at the same time.

Keep your board members from being poached by competitors.

A desirable board member is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, snagging this individual for your board may be a coup for your organization; on the other hand, it means your board member may be constantly approached by other boards.

Once you build a great board, you need to work to retain it. Many organizations only think about what a board can do for them, but you also need to ponder what you can do to make serving on your board rewarding for your members to keep them from being seduced by other associations:

  • Don’t overwork board members, especially if other members aren’t pulling their weight.
  • Prevent boredom by making sure members have their ideas heard and have chances to implement some of them.
  • Always thank members for their time and hard work, and consider which members appreciate public recognition and which prefer a more subtle expression of gratitude.
  • Ask your board members how things are going, if they are happy, and what you can do to support them. Don’t wait until the exit interview (see below) to find out that they were tired, frustrated or upset.


If you do lose board members, whether to competition or natural attrition, make sure to schedule a private exit interview with departing individuals. Even if your board member is leaving because the term of service has been satisfied and everything is copacetic, your association and future board members can still benefit from suggestions from outgoing people. If you aim to make your board of directors a dynamic, constantly improving entity, it will ultimately make your association stronger too.