What Makes the Perfect Associate Board?

Cara Staff

Learn how to put together a nonprofit associate board to help your organization achieve its mission.

This is what you need to know when it comes to assembling an effective associate board for your nonprofit

Cara’s Associate Board is composed of emerging leaders across a variety of industries who are ready, willing, and able to activate their networks to spread the word about Cara and our mission to mitigate generational poverty through meaningful employment. But how did we put together such an active associate board? Here are three helpful tips to get you started on uniting a network of professionals to further the goals of your organization. 

#1: Set Expectations

Before diving into the who, understand the what. Think about what your organization needs to be successful in advancing its goals. Of course, there are some universal considerations for nonprofits, and since these are volunteer positions, it’s especially important to make sure each potential associate board candidate knows what they’re signing up for before they agree to join. Associate board members will be expected to:

  • Believe in your work. This is by far the most important thing for your associate board members to do. They should be your organization’s number one advocates and truly exemplify its values, understand its vision, and actively drive its mission forward. This includes, of course, participating in fundraisers and donating money to your cause.
  • Be a team player. Your associate board needs to work together to make decisions. Often, this means splitting up into committees to move projects forward and attending regular meetings to ensure everything stays on track. 
  • Understand and fulfill responsibilities. From the legal expectations and standards that come with being an associate board member for any organization to the responsibilities your organization is specifically asking of them, potential candidates must be aware of their duties and dedicate themselves to fulfilling them.

Aside from that, note the characteristics you’d like to see in a potential member and your organization’s specific expectations of each associate board member. Put together documentation on what active participation on the associate board will look like and standards that individuals are expected to meet. Having this all laid out and ready for potential associate board members to review and sign off on will make the process much easier in the long run. You’ll also have to decide on the size of your associate board, term limits for members, and how your associate board will be structured. Take into account what makes sense for your organization, and remember that this can be adapted to meet your nonprofit’s needs as it grows.

At Cara, for example, our Associate Board focuses on designing programs, engaging Cara Ambassadors, and supporting our signature fundraising and friend-raising events, such as the Cara Summer Social and Motivations After Dark. 

This three-pronged focus provides each associate board member with a variety of avenues to follow and different levels to support Cara based on their capacity and ability—that way, no one is overwhelmed or out of their comfort zone. 

“I am excited to ‘get to work’ and blown away by Cara’s energy, organization, and tangible impact.” Justin Anthony, Associate Board Member 

#2: Recruit the Right Individuals

Finding the best people for your associate board, especially when your organization is still young, can be a stressful and difficult process. First, think strategically about the kinds of people you’ll need on your side. Consider the skills and expertise your organization could benefit from and work from there to determine who you might pull to be on your board. A great place to start is close to home—friends, neighbors, nearby nonprofits, major corporations, and well-established local businesses may offer the perfect opportunity to make connections with the right people. However, if you don’t know where to start, you can also recruit volunteers using resources such as boardnetUSA, Volunteermatch, and BoardSource

Then, when it’s time to reach out to the individuals you want on your team, have a thorough but succinct interview process in place. Also, know your standards: Who are you looking for, and what do they promise to bring to your organization? 

At Cara, we look for people who go beyond being familiar with our work—we seek people who are looking to leverage their passion, network, and talent to bring greater reach and impact to Cara’s mission to transform lives. We’re also always looking to bring in people from companies or industries that we haven’t seen before to bring greater depth and knowledge to our Associate Board. This ensures that our Associate Board is made up of dedicated Cara supporters who have previously engaged with Cara through their company, whether by attending Motivations or a fundraising event, volunteering with the organization, or those who have a personal connection with the organization or its founding family. 

Beyond that, when it comes to reaching out to potential Associate Board members, we’ve created a funnel process for potential Board recruitment through our Ambassador committee. These are primarily young professionals looking to support Cara and engage with the organization less formally. Recruiting them first for the program creates a potential pathway to the Associate Board. We also hold an open recruitment and application process each fall, where interested members are welcome to apply. No matter how you do it, the important part is to find the right people for your organization. 

If this sounds like you, reach out to our Individual Engagement Manager Jonathan Eisen to learn more about and apply for our Associate Board.

“I am honored to be a member of a team rooting for all Cara participants on their journey to success.”Kandice Walker, Associate Board Member

#3: Get Organized—As a Team

Your associate board works as a unit to drive your nonprofit’s mission forward. The first step here will be to gather your chosen individuals for regular meetings, start conversations, and establish connections. Cara’s Associate Board meets monthly, but various committees and working groups will get together more often and at different times, depending on their projects and planning. In this sense, it’s important to be flexible and understand the needs of each aspect of your board.

At your first associate board meeting, introduce all of the members and confirm any legal documents. Elect officers to essential positions and assign duties to each member. Ideally, you don’t want anyone to be working too hard or anyone to be hardly working, but these decisions will also rely on the time commitment each member is willing and able to make. 

Remember: Your volunteers are the backbone of everything your nonprofit does, so setting up a formalized network of volunteers like an associate board is an important step. Put time and effort into how your associate board works, its members, and always be on the lookout for areas of improvement. 

“Every minute I spend at Cara is a fulfilling reminder of the definition of home, hope, and community.”Cordelia Seidel, Associate Board President