Speed Dating Is Not the Path to a Great Board

Published by Karen Osborne on

around the tabelA great board should be a force multiplier filled with “connectors to mission-critical constituents” as Jon Glaudemans of Ascension Health says.  People who know and care about our mission and organization.  Leaders who have integrity, grit, empathy, humility and the will to succeed on behalf of the people, beliefs and planet we serve. Generous people inspired by what we do, wise workers and committed philanthropic investors.

Yeah, right.  Are you rolling your eyes or wiping them because you believe in the list but have no hope of getting there?

I’d like to tackle the number one reason I believe too many of us don’t have the boards our missions deserve and offer strategies for doing it right.

Speed dating is the culprit and road block to a great board!

“I know we have some vacancies to fill and I have just the right guy for us,” reports a board member on the nominating committee.

“Great, tell us about him,” says the chair of the committee.

“Smart, good guy.  We need more folks with financial acumen and he’s the CFO of major company we’d love to have a relationship with.”

“Do you think he’d say yes?”

“Not sure but I’m willing to give it a try.”

The committee chair looks around the room at her fellow board members.  “What do you think?”

“If George says this guy is good, then I say go for it.”

Nods all around.


Maybe your process for building and engaging a great board is a bit more thoughtful and more questions are asked.  Who does he know? What are her other commitments? Why might he want to serve on our board?  George answers them and is given the go ahead.

Instead, the questions should be about the attributes you are seeking.  Is he generous, does she have impeccable integrity, care deeply about our mission, is he already engaged with our vision and work?  Who else on the board knows her?  Is he a philanthropic investor in our organization?

Just as we shouldn’t meet someone once or twice and then ask her for transformational gift to our organization (because the chances for an inspired, joyful, generous yes are slim), so we shouldn’t treat prospective board members that way and expect good results.  Here is a process that makes sense. Taking time up front pays off and results in a great board. Try it.  Demand it. Work it.

Finding board members

Think about the amazing board you’ll have when you take your time rather than speed through the process.  Instead of 100% of the board giving a nominal amount or a few good donors on the board and the rest on the sidelines, you’ll have a board made up of people who already know and love your mission, vision and work, who are generous givers and connectors to others.

Be ambitious for your mission and don’t settle for the wrong people.

Too late?  You already have a board of 15 who are not enthusiastically giving and helping philanthropically?  A wise CEO, Arthur Levine, told me it is easier to bring on the right people than try to kick off the wrong people. Try the rule of three.  Check out this 3 minute video and then go and find three champions who can change everything.

If you would like a set of strategic questions you can ask in a stimulating conversation to uncover generosity, integrity, will, grit, empathy, and the other critical characteristics your mission deserves contact me at Karen@theosbornegroup.com and I’ll send them to you.

Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.


Claire Axelrad · May 27, 2013 at 16:18

Such excellent advice, and I absolutely LOVE the video to demonstrate the point. Many organizations do find themselves in the ‘too late’ scenario, and this can be so helpful to struggling EDs whose frustration has them completely stuck. Begin with one champion… then… Thanks so much for sharing!

Robin · May 28, 2013 at 19:40

This is outstanding, Karen–I am printing this chart out for future jobs (I’m not looking and my org has a really strong governance process and committee that I don’t directly work with), but wondered your opinion about making a solicitation before the board ask. How do you handle that typically? We seem to be averse to doing so as we make the ask after they have accepted the board position, but would love to know your thoughts on how and how much. Thanks for this great post!

    Karen Osborne · May 28, 2013 at 21:34

    The key is to engage them before having any discussion about board service. Invite them to a strategic conversation about your big ideas — the societal problems you are solving and the path your organization is taking over the next few years (or seek advice on marketing, stewardship or get them to volunteer helping in some mission work, invite them on a local mission). Then solicit for at least 1,000. Provide stewardship. Ask strategic questions. Only then do you have the recruitment conversation. Take more time up front and have a better board in the long run.

Markus Lens · February 17, 2022 at 15:10

I remember spending a lot of time in speed dating and blind dating 10 years ago. Then it was popular and it was profitable for many institutions to hold such mass events. But now the situation has changed due to restrictions and recently I read reviews on https://eharmony.pissedconsumer.com/review.html about how people find partners and friends on this site. I started reading other reviews and I think that there is a chance to find normal adequate people for communication, and possibly interesting life partners.

[Headlines] Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About | | · June 5, 2013 at 20:45

[…] Speed Dating Is Not the Path to a Great Board. A great board should be a force multiplier filled with “connectors to mission-critical constituents” by Karen Osborne for 101fundraising […]

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