Try this exercise: Gather your board members around a whiteboard or flip chart and ask the following question:

"If we could design the perfect board for our organization, what skills and qualities would we look for in prospective board members?"

Skills would include specific expertise to help the board run effectively:

  • program knowledge
  • marketing
  • fundraising
  • consensus-building
  • appropriate professional wisdom (for example, accounting, community organizing, investment, or legal knowledge)

Qualities would cover more intangible - but no less important - factors, such as:

  • personal experience as an agency client
  • sense of humor
  • team player
  • good listener
  • willingness to attend meetings
  • risk-taker
  • experience on other boards
  • diversity in terms of race, social class, gender, age, geography, and sexual orientation

Perhaps the most important criterion is passion for and commitment to the nonprofit's mission.

Brainstorm this list of desired skills and qualities with the full board. Think as broadly as possible. With a bit of effort, most groups can generate 25 to 30 characteristics they would love to incorporate into their "best board."

Having created this list, it's natural to ask, "How does our current board compare to this idealized one? What are we doing well? Where do we need help?" Or, you might even ask, "How do we recruit a different mix of board members to fill the gaps we've identified?"

If you're ready to continue to the next stage of this exercise, review the list together and assign a collective grade for each item in order to prioritize.

You can also use this exercise as a tool for self-evaluation. Ask each board member to rate himself or herself against the criteria on the list, using the same scoring system. This exercise helps leaders to think more creatively and comprehensively about what they bring (or don't bring) to the board, and it provides an opportunity to help improve or remove less-than-effective trustees.

ANDY ROBINSON is a trainer, consultant, and author based in Vermont. He is the author of six books, including the new Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises with Andrea Kihlstedt. To learn more, visit and



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