I can clearly remember standing in the wings, supporting speakers and awards on stage at the Waldorf Astoria. As a senior manager at a well-known New York City nonprofit, my role was often behind the scenes as high-profile board members took the microphone, attended board meetings, or chaired committees.

Their involvement was balanced by the local neighborhood board members who had come up through the volunteer ranks. Both groups filled specific needs of the organization.They were attuned to a nonprofit world that is fast disappearing. . . one where change was not perceived or dealt with.

Boards today must toggle between performing in the present and thinking forward to (imagining, strategizing, and preparing for) an unseen, improbable, and disruptive future to position their nonprofits for persistent success. What can make that possible? A new set of criteria for identifying and mentoring next-generation board leaders is a good start.

Rather than merely seeking board members for their fame and fortune, or their historical involvement, it’s time to put value on abilities such as the following:

  • Recognizing: Boards need people who watch the world around them — including the nonprofit’s clients, programs, technologies, and competitors. Their observations help them see and imagine new ways of doing things.
  • Questioning: More than listening to reports or rubber-stamping decisions, they need to start asking questions, great probing questions that assess potential, gauge risk, and evaluate performance with an eye to the future.
  • Anticipating: The potential of novel ideas, partnerships, and arrangements can help the board discover new directions by connecting apparently unrelated questions, opportunities, or resources and seeing forward to their possibilities.
  • Networking: By cultivating a diverse set of contacts who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives, board members becomes informal researchers.

Read the full article about innovations needed for nonprofit board recruitment by  Loretta L. Donovan at BoardSource.