Speed Dating: A Board Leadership Strategy?

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February 19, 2014; San Francisco Business Journal

Earlier this week, more than 150 Bay Area nonprofit organizations and 1,000 potential board members convened for the ninth annual Board Match event hosted by the Volunteer Center serving San Francisco and San Mateo counties. In a philanthropic version of “speed dating,” nonprofit executives staffed booths, shared their mission, answered questions, and interviewed potential candidates on the spot.

Speed dating for board members and volunteers is not a new concept; we have reported on similar events that have been held in other cities. But since many nonprofits still struggle to find effective board members, this idea may be worth expanding. It is certainly having an impact in the Bay Area. When the Board Match event was initiated in 2005, only a few hundred potential board members were in attendance. Now, with more than a thousand candidates present, many of the nonprofits return year after year to meet and recruit new directors.

Such events may also help combat some of the leadership challenges of running a self-perpetuating (or self-nominating) board. Self-perpetuating boards are tempted to recruit new board members from amongst their friends and colleagues and thereby run the risk of becoming unrepresentative of the target population and service area. The ability of self-perpetuating boards to develop a strong board culture may also increase the risk of becoming too insular and unresponsive. Speed dating events like Board Match can help self-perpetuating boards meet and recruit candidates they would never otherwise have considered. Self-perpetuating boards, unlike an elected or appointed board, also have the opportunity to recruit for specific skill sets. At the Board Match event, nonprofits could use the opportunity to advertise for and recruit board members with specific knowledge, such as legal, financial, or technical expertise.

Of course, the situation is not either/or, self-perpetuating or speed dating. In fact, to extend the metaphor, if we went into personal speed dating with the idea of simply installing someone we met there as our boyfriend or girlfriend with a term of service, we would likely be disappointed. If your nonprofit has a strategy wherein it engages stakeholders in committees and otherwise, it will have a diverse, tested, and committed pool to draw from at all times. Maybe we all need to reconsider those engagement strategies more generally.

In the end, successful board service is about finding the right match. More than 200 matches were made at the 2013 Board Match event, but for those participants who didn’t find a few true loves, it’s important to keep searching. “Board service is for everyone,” the Volunteer Center indicates on its website. “Whether you’re just starting out, a mid-career professional, or a seasoned philanthropist, there is a nonprofit that will value your talents.”—Jennifer Amanda Jones


  • Gus Blessing

    First, I’d like to say this article was a worthwhile read, and I was intrigued by the concept of “speed dating” between nonprofits and potential board members. The concept of speed dating to find and recruit potential board members focuses on the essential premise of pairing and creating a mutually beneficial partnership.
    This strategy does help stray away from an internal bias selection, which could be good or bad depending on what the organization desires. A new board member can provide new ideas and strategies to a nonprofit that could slowly change the culture and mission of the nonprofit. Conversely, the new board member could simply improve effectiveness and efficiency within the organization without shaping culture and mission.
    The process of speed dating is less formal. This could be problematic. There is a possibility that not all essential personal weren’t involved in the interview. Additionally, this process is not as formal and would be lacking some elements such as written and understood job description as well as sufficient background checking, physical examination, and drug testing if needed.
    Although it is an innovative and perhaps effective recruiting technique, it does take time from the essential mission of a nonprofit. I think that one way I could forsee improving this speed dating tactic would be to create a two stage interview process. The first stage, at the actual speed dating location, could determine if a call back interview could take place. In the second interview, a more formal approach such as thoroughly reviewing job description, contract, and other externalities with the prospective board member could occur. The first interview could have significant weight to evalauting prospetive board members.
    I think that speed dating recruitment could be a good strategy to recruit some types of volunteers, more likely consultants. This form of recruitment doesn’t seem to appeal to missionaries, and would not be tailored to their needs of wanting to work seriously and earnestly for something they care about. Although, speed dating could be the entry way to becoming a missionary volunteer. Conversely, if consultants could be reached out to, I believe speed dating could very effectively recruit these voluntereers. has potential benefits and drawbacks that nonprofits should be aware of and consider.