Once you’re ready to start putting together a board in earnest, you need to approach it, as I said, with caution and deliberation. Caution, because boards are petry dishes for the Rule of Thirds.

One third of your board will be valuable members, contributing money, expertise and emotional support.
One third of your board will do nothing
One third of your board will actively work to undermine everything the rest of the board is doing. (Think ‘Congress’)

For an organization getting past the start up phase, your board needs to grow, it needs to start giving, and it needs to understand its function, both cultural (within your organization) and statutory. An easy approach is to set up a grid. Across the top are the categories Money-Influence-Expertise-Reward. Down the side are categories Government, Philanthropic, Community/Local, Financial/Legal, PR/Marketing, IT/Web, Your Issue (primary), Your Issue (secondary).

Make another list, with the name of everyone, and I mean everyone, whose name has come up regarding the board or the advisory board. Add all your core volunteers. Add people you just think could help. Get more names from your core volunteers, your current board, and fellow travelers. Your current board gets to stay on the board through their term (and you do have board term limits, right? Right? RIGHT?) unless they tell you they will step aside. This is why you want your start-up board to be small.

With a small group of key people (not more than 3-5, including you), start fitting all those names into boxes on the grid. (The “Reward” box is for core volunteers and current major donors.)  People can be in more than one box. If someone doesn’t fit into a box, ask yourself if they belong on this list. Maybe they get involved as volunteers, or maybe they belong on an Advisory Board, rather than the statutory function. Doesn’t mean they don’t belong on your board, but make sure you know why you’re asking them–what are they bringing to the table.

If there is someone you are just dying to have on your board, that’s the first person you ask. Then, look at the people who fit several boxes, and start with them. Probably only 1/2 to 1/3 of the people you ask will agree, but build it slowly, just in case. Move on to your core volunteers.

Once you’ve filled about half the board that you’re aiming for, turn over the grid and the nominating to them, and let them take it over. This is key– let your board be your board, and they will let you lead the organization.

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