Building Nonprofit Boards that Transform Lives

January 16, 2013

Editor's Note: Building Excellent Schools is part of the LinkedIn Board Member Connect program which helps nonprofit leaders easily identify connections to potential board members. Sign up for the next LinkedIn Board Member Connect webinar on February 7th.

On the first Sunday morning of 2013, I found myself in the inaugural meeting of the founding board of directors for a proposed public charter school. Seated around a long table in a sunshine-filled conference room, the six board members introduced themselves, and over plates of eggs, black beans, and rice, shared how they had come to join the team. One by one, each thanked the proposed school's founder for inviting them to join the board, and one member thanked LinkedIn. Exchanging a knowing glance and chuckle with his colleagues around the table, the member reminded us that every individual on this board had been identified through an exhaustive search on LinkedIn.

I work for an organization called Building Excellent Schools (BES). Through our one-year Fellowship, BES supports entrepreneurs to design, found, lead, and sustain excellent charter schools in underserved communities nationwide. As the Director for Governance and Board Development, I am responsible for ensuring that each BES Fellow identify, vet, and invite 7-9 members to their proposed school’s founding board of directors.

Founding board members of BES charter schools must believe in our mission, commit the time necessary to found an organization, be dedicated to the community, and contribute to the board's diversity. At BES, we believe that diverse boards function more effectively and are better stewards of the public trust. We seek diversity in the areas of professional expertise and seniority, gender, age, race/ethnicity, and sometimes, language.

Anyone who recruits board members (or any talent for that matter) knows that, at the end of the day, identifying the right people is all about networking. My challenge at BES--and, frankly, what makes my work exciting--is that every year, I work collaboratively with the Fellows to build 8 to 12 boards simultaneously, in multiple cities, ideally within the first three months of the Fellowship year, and with limited time and contacts on the ground. More than a third of the individuals we have invited and confirmed for charter school boards this year were first identified through LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an essential tool that allows us to:

  1. Organize and access existing networks. By finding and connecting on LinkedIn with people they already knew--including each other--the Fellows discovered that their networks were much larger than they thought. Fellows connected with past supervisors, former classmates, and colleagues. As their boards began to take shape, they also connected with their new board members.
  2. Expand our networks. By browsing the connections and affiliations of their contacts, Fellows were able to identify and learn about the key individuals, companies, and organizations in their cities. They also joined alumni, corporate affinity, and other Groups to find individuals in their cities who shared their interests and backgrounds.
  3. Handpick prospects. Within the first week of the Fellowship, I trained Fellows to use LinkedIn Advanced Search and Profiles to hone in on individuals who met specific criteria. For example, Fellows used Advanced Search to locate senior-level legal professionals who speak Spanish and who work for a major employer in their city. They then evaluated the Profiles to learn more about the individuals, their professional background, and Causes they care about.

Alongside more traditional recruitment strategies, LinkedIn opens the door to outstanding board prospects who we can evaluate further through background research and in-person interviews.

Consider one of the charter school boards we recently built in a southern city. As is typical, the Fellow leading the founding of this proposed school was new to the city, and due to the intensity of the training and travel associated with the BES Fellowship, had limited time on the ground. In his words,

“LinkedIn helped me get to know my city before I actually got on the ground.  Seeing the major employers, clubs and professional organizations that tied together the community gave me a sense of where I could look to find people who would be interested in our work.  LinkedIn profiles helped me to determine how an individual’s background and professional interests might translate into support for the school.”

Five of the nine board members confirmed for the charter school being proposed by this Fellow were identified through LinkedIn. The founding board held its inaugural meeting in December 2012, just three months after the start of the BES Fellowship. Another board built. Another opportunity to found a school that will transform lives.

If LinkedIn has helped you transform your career or business, please share your story with us or write a post on LinkedIn with the hashtag #MyLinkedInStory. For more inspiration, check out more success stories.