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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

LESSON 14 - If You Need a Board Member, Recruit a Board Member

Welcome to Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Bruce Johnson is our guest blogger this week for the fourth of four lessons in "Part 4: Epiphanies in the Boardroom."

LESSON 14 OF 40 - If You Need a Board Member, Recruit a Board Member
If you need a volunteer, recruit a volunteer.

 Here’s the big take-away principle from Chapter 14—the best volunteers don’t necessarily make the best board candidates. Great volunteers are often get-it-done people. They like rolling up their sleeves. Seeing things accomplished. They have skills for a particular project or initiative.  

Being an effective board member calls for the ability to work in committees, think strategically, overcome the temptation to manage the work—and instead, think at a higher level of oversight, policy, and governance.  

Bringing on board members with little governance experience (this should be the exception, rather than the rule) requires preparation and mentoring, which takes a commitment of time by them, the CEO, the board chair, and a culture of learning among the board. 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 14, pages 68-72: "Whoa, Nelly!"
As noted on page 69, “We expect restaurants to have competent chefs. We trust airline pilots to be trained up to the minute and highly competent. We expect theologians to be lifelong learners…Yet board members, not so much.”

Years ago I was mentoring a young ministry leader. He was so excited to tell me, “I just met a wealthy businessman who is a Christian. I’m going to invite him to join our board next week.”  

“Whoa, Nelly!” I thought (a phrase made famous by the recently deceased sports broadcaster, Keith Jackson). Success in business does not instantly translate to success as a board member.  Discerning, cultivating, and vetting who would be a good board member is one of the most important responsibilities of the CEO and board members.  

And high on the qualification list is knowledge of governance and the role of the board and board members for your organization.

Identifying competent board members takes time. Do they really understand and are they passionate about the mission of your organization? Do they have the time? Will they “play well” in the board setting or will they drive their agenda? Do they bring knowledge and experience that will add to the board, not detract?  Do they understand how to lead by policy, rather than by operational directive?

And for your current board members, I affirm the authors’ suggestion on page 72, “Inspire a board member to help increase the board’s competencies in policy development by reading a book [or chapter], booklet, or article on Policy Governance®.”  

Ask a board member to take 10 minutes at an upcoming board meeting to review and discuss one idea about board governance. Create a culture of learning with your board. It’s a great way to give back to them. 


Bruce Johnson is president of SIM USA, a global mission that brings good news to people living and dying without the gospel. SIM has multi-skilled workers of more than 65 nationalities serving together on six continents. It ministers among diverse people groups through Christian witness, community development, medicine, education, business, and more. Bruce has over four decades of leadership experience in Christian ministry, including three stints as an interim CEO.  For nearly a decade he had a full-time consulting practice to ministry and church leaders, helping them clarify and implement strategy, board governance, and leadership development.  Bruce and his wife, Mary, live in Charlotte, N.C. He serves on the board of ECFA and is an elder in his local church.

• Share with your board chair the idea of asking a board member (who gets board governance) to lead a 10-minute learning session.
• Make a list of what competencies are critical for potential candidates for your board.   


On Feb. 28, 2018, watch for George Duff's commentary on Lesson 15, "Cut Your Losses: Is it a $30,000 baseball or not?"

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