I recently wrote a blog for Idea Girl Media about building a strong board and what areas nonprofits should address when structuring their board. While “Non-Profit Essentials: Blocks For Building Strong Boards” addresses the “what” when building Boards, one reader commented that it’s finding the “who” that can be troublesome for small nonprofit organizations. NPOs should be striving to recruit C-level Boards (CEOs, COOs and other high ranking executives from local companies), but how do you break into that elite circle?
“Recruiting high end board members is no different than cultivating potential major donors. The key is building relationships, and this does not happen overnight,” said Shana Masterson, Associate Director of Interactive Fundraising and Engagement for the American Diabetes Association, in a private interview about finding board members for NPOs conducted for this blog post.
Masterson is absolutely right – cultivation is key. The problem most of us have, however, is finding prospects and figuring out how to open doors. Social media can help nonprofits with both. Companies across the country are engaging in social media efforts and that includes the C-level staffers. From blogs to Twitter accounts, you can find top executives from many companies surfing the Web. Engaging in a variety of social media sites can help you get access to these people – even if you don’t know who they are yet.
“Take advantage of social networks. You may not know your potential board member, but LinkedIn allows you to see second and third connections of those you are connected with. Have your boards and staff do the same,” Masterson suggests.
Browsing LinkedIn to see your contacts’ connections is a good way to identify potential Board members. In addition to identifying new prospects, you are able to look at what groups they are using on the site and what organizations they are already involved with in the community. You can also search social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to locate potential candidates in your geographic area. Neal Schaffer’s blog “5 Alternative Ways to Search Twitter for People by Location” sheds some light on apps that can help you research people in your area who use Twitter.
Using social media sites to do some background homework on potential candidates may also narrow down your candidate pool for you. The new LinkedIn feature that allows people to list volunteer experience on their profile is a great help for this endeavor. Someone who is already volunteering for three or four organizations may be spread too thin to take on your project. You should also encourage current Board members to list your organization on their profile. You never know who may take notice. You can read more about listing volunteer experience on LinkedIn profiles in Mashable’s article “LinkedIn Now Lets You Include Volunteer Experience in Your Profile.”
Once you’ve identified a prospect use social media sites to make your first connection. Does the person have a blog? Take the time to read blog entries and leave comments. Most bloggers respond to comments left and this is a great way to start a conversation. See if the potential candidate is on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Take the initiative to retweet, repost and comment on their site posts. Join the groups they use on LinkedIn and engage in conversation there.
You may find that not only are you able to start engaging your current prospect but that others will join the conversation and lead to new prospects. C-level executives attract other C-level prospects. Once you’ve managed to bring one or two high ranking people onto your Board getting the attention of others will be easier.
After you’ve engaged your potential candidate in conversation, use social media to link their interests with your organization’s mission. Find connecting points and show the person why they are a great fit for your NPO. Post information to their Facebook site or Twitter account about upcoming education programs or symposiums your organization is hosting. Is your NPO funding a project that highlights an interest of your potential candidate? Blog about it and then send them the links on LinkedIn or other social media sites. C-level executives are busy people; take the initiative to connect the dots between their interests and your needs.
Social media can be a great starting place for getting someone familiar with your name and organization. Getting in front of the person is the first step in the cultivation process. The one thing you must remember is that this is a process – building relationships doesn’t happen overnight.