Nonprofit Draft Day seeks recruits to serve on boards

With more nonprofits than any other county in the state, it’s often hard for Dane County nonprofits to find volunteer board members. A new NFL-style draft event hopes to remedy that with a fun spin on board recruitment.

It may be the start of a new year, in the middle of a frigid, sub-zero cold spell, but a lot of people in Greater Madison already have their sights set on spring and the National Football League Draft. After all, following lackluster seasons, the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers are all searching for some new head coaches and/or assistants, not to mention new talent to stock their rosters. (We won’t mention the Minnesota Vikings.)

An entirely different draft is set for later this month though right here in Madison. It’s the first ever Nonprofit Draft Day, and its organizers hope the event will help replenish the talent on local nonprofit boards in much the same way our favorite football teams are hoping the NFL Draft will bring a slew of new playmakers.

Dane County has more nonprofits than any other county in the state. However, many of these local nonprofits have board seats that remain unfilled, despite the fact that Madison has one of the most educated talent pools in the state. On Jan. 20, Nonprofit Draft Day seeks to fill these open seats through a one-day event linking nonprofit boards to prospective board talent.

Kevin Dwyer, CEO of Madison-based startup Where Is Care (formerly HealthConnect.Link), developed the draft concept to draw attention to the need. “The idea for Nonprofit Draft Day occured to me in October, after a meeting with staff from a few other nonprofits — Chrysalis, SOAR Case Management, Tellurian, and some others,” Dwyer says. “Where Is Care is a very young nonprofit, but we have a strong leadership team and board. They asked how I found all these amazing people for my board and mentioned that it was difficult for them to find qualified people for their boards. I didn’t have a great answer as my board came together organically. After that meeting, it occured to me that this must be a common problem for local nonprofits. There are just so many of them quietly doing great work in our community.

“Madison has hundreds of nonprofit agencies, which means thousands of board seats that can often go unfilled,” Dwyer continues. “What would happen if these nonprofits could tap into Madison’s talent, filling their boards the way football teams draft star athletes? Here’s a chance for Madison professionals — people at every level — to gain new skills in team-building, negotiating, problem-solving, and financial management, all while making an impact in our community.”

A vibrant not-for-profit sector is one of the features that makes greater Madison such a special place, adds Scott Flanagan, president of Edgewood College, the event’s host, and effective, inclusive governing boards play an important role. “We are proud to host this event to connect talented individuals with organizations working to address some of our community’s most pressing needs,” Flanagan says.

Alnisa Allgood of Collaboration for Good Inc. believes the event is a wonderful way for professionals and others looking to grow their expertise to find organizations looking for new board members. “Serving on a board can be a great experience, especially if you can match your skills and expertise to your passion for an issue or organization,” says Allgood. “This is an exciting new approach to addressing what’s long been an issue for many nonprofit organizations.”

Initially, taking a job fair format for a recruitment event made sense to Dwyer, but he notes it doesn’t reflect the reward that volunteer work holds. “For me, having the chance to use my skills and talents to serve others is a privilege I’m grateful for. It’s also a lot of fun! I added the draft concept because I thought it would help people to understand that being selected to lead a nonprofit is a great honor and one that can be exciting, too. As far as I know, no one has ever had a draft for nonprofit boards. It’s pretty different.”

According to Dwyer, there are a number of reasons why nonprofits might experience challenges in recruiting board members. He believes the single most significant factor for nonprofits is simply making the wider community aware that their organization even exists and they are looking for volunteer board members. New technology platforms enabling nonprofits to more easily connect with their communities are coming out, which could help a lot, Dwyer says.

“The next hurdle is overcoming some of the perceptions people have about what it takes to be on a board,” explains Dwyer. “You don’t necessarily have to be wealthy or the CEO of a big company. Many nonprofits just want people who care about their cause.”



Draft rules

So far, 27 nonprofits are registered for the Draft Day event, ranging from well-known organizations like the Salvation Army, the American Diabetes Association of Wisconsin, and Easter Seals of Wisconsin to other more grassroots organizations. “It’s been pretty easy to get nonprofits to register, which is a sign of just how great the need is,” notes Dwyer.

More than 30 “free agents” have also registered so far. “It would be great to see a few more though,” Dwyer adds. “We encourage Madison’s incredibly talented workforce to sign up and find their fit within this large list of deserving nonprofits.”

Free agents can register online up to Jan. 19 or in person on the day of the event. Nonprofits should register online by Jan. 17.

On Jan. 20, the draft will consist of a single round — one pick per nonprofit — and the order of the draft will be determined randomly. Each nonprofit will have a booth along with a small ballot box. If a free agent would like to be considered by that nonprofit, all he or she needs to do is just drop a business card into that organization’s box. Nonprofits can only draft free agents that have indicated an interest in that organization, ensuring good matches are being made, Dwyer explains. If a free agent goes undrafted, there’s still a good chance he or she could end up on a board, he adds. Many of these organizations are looking to fill several positions.

Every free agent has a profile posted on, as do the nonprofits, which will enable both groups to do some advance scouting before the day of the draft.

Nonprofits are not obliged to draft anyone, notes Dwyer, but if they do draft someone that person will go through the normal onboarding and confirmation process dictated by the nonprofit’s bylaws.

Once the draft commences, the lead scouts for each nonprofit organization — their executive director, board president, etc. — will be invited on stage to announce their draft pick in order. Chosen free agents will then be invited onstage at that time to receive recognition by all those in attendance. The event even features walk-up songs for the nonprofits and their draft picks.

“A huge part of the event is making it an honor to be selected for a nonprofit board and have that announced in public,” says Dwyer. “It’s meant to be fun and exciting so we’ve confirmed a celebrity emcee to help create that party atmosphere.”

“A shared interest in advancing the nonprofit’s mission is critical for a successful board match,” says Melanie Schmidt, president of Timpano Group. “Board members who then share leadership in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities elevate the board from a legal requirement to a strategic asset.”

During a session for the free agents on draft day to lay out the playbook for what makes an effective board member, Schmidt will share her decades of experience in building capacity among nonprofit boards.

“We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a lot of support on this event,” says Dwyer. “Scott Flanagan and Ed Taylor from Edgewood College got behind it early on and helped with sponsoring the venue. That was a major contribution. Our other sponsors like Collaboration for Good, reVerbal Communications, Red Fox Creative, and Wisconsin Mujer have done amazing work helping with promotions. The biggest challenge has been timing. We are going from conception to hosting the event in under three months with zero budget.

“I think this event is already a success,” Dwyer adds. “As long as the participants have fun and the volunteers have fun, then we’ll look at doing it again. It might get combined with some other local nonprofit-focused event. Who knows?”

Nonprofit Draft Day takes place on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Edgewood College Predolin Hall, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Madison. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is also free.

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