Fundraising, legal skills in demand on NFP boards

Posted on 17 Oct 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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NFP boards are lacking skills in fundraising, legal knowledge, communications and marketing, technology and a range of other attributes, according to a survey of community leaders.

A national survey of Australian not-for-profits shows the vast majority (91%) find recruiting new talent to their boards is a challenge.

The ICDA “Pulse Poll” survey of 714 not-for-profit leaders showed that the top three factors preventing people from joining or staying on a board, they believed, were:

  • lack of time (84%)
  • lack of knowledge (45%)
  • lack of relevant skills (43%)

The study also revealed that the skills most lacking on boards were:

  • fundraising (49%)
  • legal (48%)
  • communications and marketing (46%)
  • technology (45%)
  • governance (40%)
  • finance (39%)
  • social media (36%)
  • community engagement (33%)

Almost half of respondents came from the community and support sector, with the balance of respondents representing an array of social sectors, such as education, advocacy, sport, youth, education and arts.

It’s tough to recruit NFP board members in ‘the sweet spot’

The poll added weight to anecdotal reports received by ICDA’s trainers and experts – which prompted this study – that the issue is at the top of the agenda for many organisations.

One respondent summed up the challenge this way: “Our board draws heavily from volunteers who are already extremely time poor … not being able to support them by way of [paying] minimal expenses or through a small professional development budget puts our organisation at a huge disadvantage.”

A housing leader responding to the poll believed the trick to effective board recruitment was “finding volunteers at the sweet spot in their lives, where professional skills are still current and they have the time to devote to our cause”.

Other respondents agreed that it was tough finding recruits with the right mix of abilities.

“Some people may have skills and knowledge in their area of expertise, but they do not have governance knowledge and skills,” they wrote.

And it appears that attaining the right mix is getting harder, with one respondent nominating “the increasing complexity of legislation that applies to community groups” as a barrier.

Respondents were also asked what extra skills they wanted to see in their directors, beyond what they had already nominated as essential attributes.

Most sought directors with sector-specific and human resources abilities, followed by recruits who could bring additional influence and connections to their organisations. Many highlighted a need for greater diversity across ethnicity, age, gender and other intersections.

Board stagnation was an issue for many organisations, with nearly one third (30%) saying “new ideas” were missing from their board. Many noted that directors who had held their posts for many years were more likely than recent recruits to shut down new ideas.

In survey comments, respondents believed the challenges relating to board members were exacerbated by lack of professional development and training, lack of governance skills, lack of commitment, and over-reliance on volunteers.

Sector suggests solutions to board recruitment issue

Adele Stowe-Lindner
ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner

ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner said the Institute was keenly interested in addressing the issue and would closely examine 128 specific solutions nominated by respondents.

“We’ll look at these closely to see whether any of these suggestions have a practical application to boost the capacity of the sector to recruit better,” Ms Stowe-Lindner said.

An early examination of the results showed that many organisations believed that “more and better” advertising, paying directors fees or expenses, better induction, clearer roles, free training, and better communication of an organisation’s purpose were all potential solutions to recruitment difficulties.

Ms Stowe-Lindner said that NFP leaders also offered the following ideas for tackling the recruitment challenge:

  • Nurturing succession over many years, and starting early with training and informal leadership opportunities to future leaders
  • Reducing expectations of the knowledge needed to join a board, accepting that learning and development can occur in the role
  • Creating incentives for businesses and other professional organisations to “lend” staff for community service,

“The main reason we hosted this survey was to take the pulse of the sector on what we suspected was a big issue,” Ms Stowe-Lindner said.

“The results highlight the need for organisations to create an environment that bridges the gap between the desire of talented recruits wanting to help, and candidates feeling confident they’ve got enough time, knowledge and skills to do the job properly.”

“ICDA will use these results in our training and resources and encourage NFP leaders to make more use of our free board matching service,” she said.

More resources

Ten common mistakes when recruiting board members, and more help sheets

Interactive wizard and help sheets: Paying board members and directors

Board Matching Service: Find or advertise a position, free

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