When building a board, look for the helpers

“Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.”

Following the bomb explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday (April 15), this comforting word from Fred Rogers has popped up again on social media sites. Our favorite neighbor was referring, of course, to advice from his mother about dealing with scary things. But it occurs to me that Mama Rogers’ wisdom is helpful as well when recruiting board members.

Okay, so it’s quite a leap from Boston to your boardroom. But stick with me.


There’s no arguing that having smart people on your board is important. And we all know that money is essential to advancing mission. However, when it comes to the holy trinity of board member attributes — wisdom, wealth, and work — the first two are relatively easy to get from board members. The harder piece of the three-part puzzle is finding board members who are interested in working. At least, that’s been my experience.

Speaking as a beleaguered board chair, I’m looking for helpers — board members who will pitch in between board meetings. Who cheerfully take on special assignments. Who regularly go beyond the minimum expected commitment.


To be clear, by helping I don’t mean trying to do the president’s job or jumping into the middle of staff work. There’s nothing helpful about micro-managing or mucking around in program details. In fact, boards that go there create some pretty scary situations.

The sort of helping I have in mind is that which advances the work of the board. I’m talking about board members who:

  • help in clarifying sticky issues by asking thoughtful and sometimes uncomfortable questions.
  • help in educating their governance colleagues by circulating an article, a blog link, or a book title related to an issue of importance to the organization.
  • help in building the governance team by suggesting as potential members folks who are known as generous with their time, talent, and treasure (in other words, helpers).
  • help in advancing the organization’s mission by providing access to their networks and inviting others to join in support of the cause.
  • help in discerning God’s future direction for the organization through prayerful attention to opportunities on the horizon.

Ministry leaders don’t have to look far to find scary things in the news. It’s been a particularly brutal decade for the nonprofit sector, with continuing hard times on the horizon. But listen to Mrs. Rogers. Look for the helpers. Recruit people to your board who are helping and you won’t go wrong.

I promise.

Talk back: What help do you want from the folks on your board? What have I left off the list?

For more on the topic, see:

The role of edgy question in strategic planning

The Music Man syndrome and board member (mis)perceptions

If you ain’t got money, honey


What's your take on this topic?

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