Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

July 22, 2013

Why nonprofit board prospects say ‘no’

Hardy Smith

Is the rejection you face from prospective board members a symptom of a bigger organizational problem?

When someone declines an invitation to join a nonprofit board, it could be for more reasons than the organization might assume.

Board members participating in my Why Don’t Board Members Do What They’re Supposed to Do? survey were asked the reasons why they would not accept a board position. Their answers revealed that “no” could actually have meaning that goes much deeper than “not enough time” or “not having a connection with the cause.”

Survey responses indicate a board turndown may be symptomatic of significant organizational issues.

According to survey participants, specific red flag concerns having a negative influence on board prospect decisions include:

The board isn’t organized, and its goals aren’t clear.

The current leadership is a turnoff.

The current staff or board members are a turnoff.

There’s a personal cost, or there’s too much fundraising.

It’s a board in name only, and not much would be accomplished.

Here are some suggestions for finding out why board prospects say “no”:

Consider the possibility that your nonprofit’s efforts are being compromised by a less than positive reputation or a damaging perception that needs addressing.

Create a dialogue in your recruitment process that allows honest feedback when a board prospect isn’t responding positively.

Conduct a self-evaluation to determine possible causes when negative responses seem to be a trend.

When someone doesn’t accept an opportunity to serve on your board, be willing to get a candid assessment. Accept those comments as constructive criticism and a first step toward taking corrective action.

Understanding why prospects say “yes” helps ensure successful board recruiting. Understanding why they say “no” can be equally important to the overall success of achieving your nonprofit’s mission. 

Hardy Smith is a consultant, author and speaker who works with nonprofits, associations and their essential leadership teams.

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