The strength of a volunteer board is often reflective of the overall strength of the not-for-profit or charitable organization it is leading. So why is it sometimes, organizations wait until the month before their Annual General Meeting to scramble to recruit new board members?

Investing in a year round process to ensure the volunteer talent and competencies match the needs of your organization today and tomorrow, will ensure the achievement of your strategic direction.

To build excellency within Canada’s charities and non profits, Imagine Canada has identified 73 Standards across 5 key focus areas, one of which is board governance, With this in mind, I reflected on my own experience with the YMCA of Niagara and being on other boards. Based on that, I pulled together the following tips, which I believe are “tried and true” for building a strong board.


  • This is a 12-month process – Be on “Board Candidate Watch” all the time.


  • Gain Board consensus and clarity around what key talents and competencies are needed for new Board members, based on current board gaps, which will also fulfill future organizational needs. Use these as the filter in the selection – it helps depersonalize the process and ensures the right mix of skills for the organization
  • Provide communication and transparency about how individuals can apply to a position.
  • Research the identified candidates to develop a full profile.
  • Identify a confidential Board or Board Committee to drive the assessment of potential candidates filtered by the competencies, and talents needed, and select the best candidates. I have used the process of “vote with 3 dots for 3 vacancies from a slate of 10 candidates” to also help to provide an objective picture of the selection team’s preference.
  • Clarify expectations with candidates by sharing written board role/ job description, and board policy that defines length of terms, committees etc.
  • Clarify time commitment including events and formal meetings. A sample annual board schedule can be helpful.
  • Have a current board and senior staff member conduct initial recruitment meetings with board Candidates that cover policy, board material samples, duties and responsibilities, board culture, and background on the organization.
  • Clarify expectations regarding the difference between the role of the board versus senior staff.

On- Boarding

  • Upon approval, engage the new board members in an “on-boarding process” that includes written material, discussion of role, sign-off forms, and tours. Consider a mentoring arrangement between new and senior board members.


  • Review if there is an alternative role for board candidates that are not selected, as part of a long-term board succession strategy.


  • Strengthen the board by offering opportunities for board members to learn and grow through professional development opportunities and a formal board evaluation process that reviews the overall board performance against their goals, along with individual board member performance. A simple, anonymous, 360-degree survey can provide very valuable feedback to individual board members and the board Chair.

These tips align with the following four Imagine Canada Standards:

  • A .The board has written terms of reference outlining how it will review, approve, and monitor the mission/strategic direction, annual budget and key financial transactions, compensation practices and policies, and fiscal and governance policies.
  • A20. A process is in place to ensure orientation of new board members. Board members must understand their legal and fiduciary responsibilities, exercise due diligence consistent with their duty of care, be familiar with the organization’s activities and fully informed of the financial status of the organization.
  • A22. The board has a process to annually review plans for succession to the positions of board chair and committee chairs.
  • A24. The board has a process to annually review its performance

Are there other strategies you have found effective when recruiting and retaining board members?

Janet St. Amand
CEO YMCA Niagara

This blog was written in support of the Niagara Community Foundation Centre of Excellence in Non-Profit Governance.

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