A nonprofit must have community seats on its board. Here’s how

Sep 8, 2022

If you’d like to add community members to your board, here’s a playbook from one nonprofit that just did it.

Here’s a radical idea for nonprofit leaders that shouldn’t be so radical: Elect members of the community you serve to your Board of Directors.

For all the expertise we expect out of nonprofit boards, like legal, marketing and fundraising, not all consider lived experience. Yet for those looking to energize a board, increase fundraising capacity and even rediscover your organization’s impact, this is an easy priority.

Before I joined Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia (CSFP) as its Executive Director in March of 2020, CSFP’s board decided to include parent voices in leadership roles. But the strategy for recruiting and electing parents to the board was not in place.

When I researched best practices for inviting and including the families we serve on our board, I found that advice on this topic was severely lacking. So along with a team member, I consulted with other leaders, participated in a workshop, and did some good old-fashioned research to learn why it was important to include parent voices, how to recruit them, and how to ensure those voices would be heard and valued.

If you’d like to add community members to your board, here are things that helped CSFP to strategically recruit and retain community members to sit on our board of directors:

  • Conduct an analysis of your current board structure and membership. Ask: what skills/experience could a member of the community we serve bring that we don’t already have?
  • Assess whether your board is ready and equipped to give new members the time and attention they need. They must be prepared to onboard people who may not have experience serving on a board, and to encourage their voices and take extra steps to make the new members feel welcome and included.
  • If your board isn’t ready, consider consulting with a professional who can help you strategize and prepare from a DE&I perspective.
  • Talk to potential new members about the role and responsibilities of a board member. Provide as much information as possible about meeting times and content, term length, fundraising and event participation, and any other requirements.
  • Take time to prepare your board for welcoming the new members. At CSFP, we provided pre-reads specific to inviting community members on boards, and refreshers about inclusive leadership. These were discussed at a meeting prior to voting on new members.
  • Consider assigning a board mentor to all new members, but especially to those who represent the community you serve. This will ensure that they have someone to ask questions of and build a relationship with.

For CSFP, the results of this strategic and intentional shift were impressive.

Our board now includes two permanent seats to be filled by current or former CSFP parent/guardian leaders. Lateefah Lucky, Owner at Bookkeeping and Consulting Made Easy, and José Santiago, Analyst at Comcast, have held these seats for the past two years.

Examples of their contributions, which other organizations may be in need of, include:

  • José suggested ways to leverage corporate match and employee giving programs to involve individuals within our partner corporations. He served one year as a Program Committee member, and is now chair of the committee. Last year, José was a strong voice in favor of helping students whose schools were closing by participating in a transfer grant program; this decision resulted in a deeper foundation partnership and helped hundreds of students. José daughter Jadzia, a CSFP alumni, spoke at a CSFP virtual event and accompanied me to visit an elected official. Jadzia is now a college freshman at Penn State University.
  • Lateefah’s experience as an accounting professional made her a perfect candidate for the Finance Committee. Lateefah is always willing to be an ambassador for CSFP, and accompanied me to network at a Philadelphia Business Journal event. Lateefah has shared her connections with Philadelphia elected officials, and invited me to join her in a meeting with a city council member. This meeting resulted in an introduction to a new corporate partner. Lateefah’s daughter Jordan, a CSFP alumni, is a high school freshman at Calvary Christian Academy.

Lateefah and José presence on CSFP’s board was immediately energizing, and we learned so much as an organization from their participation at the highest leadership level. Their personal experiences, along with their ideas and networks, have been invaluable, and you can replicate this success within your own organization.

This piece was written by Keisha Jordan and featured in a Generocity article on September 7, 2022.