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May 18, 2022
All Nonprofits Deserve a Strong Board: Here’s How to Do It
Book - Onboarding Champions

Perhaps nothing is more important for nonprofits than assembling a committed board of directors who will advocate aggressively for the organization, for which Onboarding Champions is essential reading.

As author James Mueller, a philanthropic and organizational strategist and expert on nonprofit governance, puts it: “These champions ensure that the nonprofits they serve stay true to their mission and thrive. They are individuals who have crossed the threshold to be 'all in' and are fully invested in a noble cause. They understand what it takes to build and sustain a highly effective board and are invested in its success.”

Building an effective board is hard work, but it need not be a mystery, because, as Mueller notes, “Thoughtfully managing board recruitment and onboarding is the most powerful tool you have to create an effective board.”

Recruiting begins with understanding the culture and values of the nonprofit – and being able to articulate them so that prospective board members can decide if they want to align with the organization. As he does throughout the book, Mueller offers detailed exercises that nonprofits can undertake to clarify positions, in this case identifying core values, and shape actions.

Perhaps most importantly, recruiting new board members provides an opportunity for nonprofits to think about what they need in terms of the character of potential directors, along with their competence, key factors that will influence board success. To that end, Mueller recommends term limits for board members, since, among other things, term limits provide a way to attract busy, productive people who know their commitment has a planned end point.

Mueller rightly emphasizes that when seeking board members nonprofits should look for people with connections that can help the organization, writing that “it is vital to identify people with the influence and the right connections in the community.

“But, to really serve a community, connections need to be strategic and intentional. The right connections within and across the community are vital to an organization’s ability to succeed in its mission.”

Attracting the right mix of board members with the right capabilities and skills is a great start. Now the challenge is to get them ready to do their job, known as onboarding, a process that Mueller says usually takes up to a year. Again, he provides detailed approaches for introducing board members to the organization, and bringing them up to speed on governance responsibilities, understanding management and staff roles, finances, and fundraising.

Reflecting his extensive experience, Mueller discusses the importance of collaboration which enables board members to work cooperatively to advance the organization, something he says is difficult for nonprofits to achieve. Again, a well structured, well executed onboarding process plays a critical role in helping to establish and nurture this mission-critical mindset.

Nonprofit success doesn’t spontaneously happen. But, in offering a comprehensive framework for recruiting and onboarding directors, Mueller provides guidance and support that will work for all organizations, regardless of focus or size.

Onboarding Champions: The Seven Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Board is available from Amazon.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
July 2021

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