Earlier this year, in a room with over 60 nonprofit leaders, we tackled some hard-hitting questions in regard to women serving on nonprofit boards.  Our panelists discussed how to recruit candidates, how to maintain their interest and how to create a women-friendly culture.  Our guest panel included Taara Hoffman, Executive Director of GirlVentures and Linda Davis, CEO of Center of Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership; and moderators, Janet Holland, Partner at DZH Phillips and Barbara Murphy, Partner at Farella, Braun + Martell.

Our key takeaways include:

Creating a Women-Friendly Culture – Assess what you need by creating a matrix and evaluating skills and the areas of expertise you’re looking for.  A way to help create a friendly culture is to balance the playing field and look for people with different points of view and diverse perspectives.  The average number of board members per organization nationwide is sixteen.  Give women equal opportunity by offering them positions in leadership and growth versus operating roles such as treasurer or secretary.

Allow members to lead and facilitate meetings; it doesn’t always have to be the board chair’s role.  It’s also good to invite everyone to share their thoughts and perspective on matters.

Be engaged with your board members by cultivating conversation, knowing your members’ strengths and knowing the areas they want to grow and participate in.  It’s also important to allow time for flexibility – let people leave early if they have to pick up their children or let them call into meetings when needed.

Implementing a More Diverse Board – Speak up and hold your board accountable.  There are many board-matching sites that your organization can utilize in order to find candidates. It will take time to post open positions and maintain your profile within these available applications; however, the benefit will be worthwhile. A good rule of thumb is to keep board positions available for prospective members at all times; if all of your seats are full, you are at risk of missing out on valuable candidates.

Diverse Personalities/Perspectives – Point back to your organization’s mission and values to help dictate what you’re looking for.  Look for diversity of opinion – you don’t want your entire board to look and act the same.  Avoid recruiting friends.  Look for candidates with similar values; they may not agree on all items, but they should be aligned with the values of the organization.

Additionally, you need members who will help solicit funds.  Look for candidates who are passionate about your organization, who will be engaged, attend meetings and know what’s going on at all times.

Attracting and Retaining Qualified Female Executives – Be transparent about opportunities as well as the challenges, both on the board and with the organization.  Having a mentorship program in place is a great way to check-in – take them out for coffee or lunch once a month.  Solicit a variety of leadership styles, set clear standards and expectations as if everyone knows what’s expected of them; they will be likely to either go or stayIf possible, participate in an annual professional development retreat with your board members and staff.  Another bonus is to offer strong compensation packages with enticing benefits.

Retainment of Women on Boards or as Staff – Create flexibility and opportunities for growth.  Hold an orientation for all new members and staff and outline their roles and responsibilities up front.  Have an assessment of the board every couple of years.  Have documents and templates of your most recent bylaws and insurances to share with your members and staff.  It’s also important to have updated documents in place; this will help retain and attract professional members and staff.  Let people know what they’re voting on and train and explain all aspects of your organization, such as finances.  Allow members and staff to ask questions about finance and budget; create an open forum for communication.

Implementing these basic factors will help your organization explore new outreach methods and create a more open-forum dialogue throughout your board.  The key is to be transparent, welcoming of new ideas and listening to your members.  Allowing flexibility will go a long way when trying to recruit and retain your board.  With the advances of mobile phones, meeting apps and technology as a whole, we no longer have to maintain in-person meetings in order for people to engage and be part of your organization.  We can now multi-task and balance a work-life-volunteer lifestyle, and organizations can facilitate these changes as they see fit for their members and staff.