chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
Vol. 39, No. 3

Board recruitment and support: Four tips from a bar foundation president

by David J. Duncan

If you’re a bar foundation board member or leader, what does it take to succeed—and to recruit and assist other great board members? And if you’re an executive director or staff member? Here, David J. Duncan, president of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation, shares his tips. In a companion article, Kirra L. Jarratt, executive director of the District of Columbia Bar Foundation, offers her perspective. The two spoke together on this topic at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Bar Foundations, in Boston.

1. Recruit the right volunteers.

Be purposeful in nominating members to your board. Most bar associations have a strong group of “bar junkies” who are energized, care about their profession and community, and would happily serve on a foundation board. However, it is important to identify the future needs of the foundation before identifying the volunteers best suited to help realize the foundation’s goals. 

For instance, is your foundation looking at revisiting its strategic plan? Visionary volunteers who think outside of the box could be beneficial to such planning sessions. However, if the foundation recently adopted a strategic plan and is in the execution phase, highly organized individuals and those with a keen attention to detail may be best suited to help sustain the foundation.

2. Develop volunteers early.

Over a decade ago, the Indianapolis Bar Association developed the Bar Leader Series, which develops lawyers for future opportunities in leadership roles in the business and legal communities. Participants learn what it means to be a leader, gain insight vital to leaders in our community, and learn how to communicate, motivate, inspire, and succeed not only in their law careers, but also in service to professional, political, judicial, civic, and community organizations. 

The Bar Leader Series has effectively served as a pipeline of future leaders for the Indianapolis Bar Association and Foundation as well as other nonprofit boards throughout central Indiana. Nearly every member of our foundation’s board has been through the Bar Leader Series. Leadership programs such as this one are an integral part of identifying members of the profession who care about the community and are committed to giving back to both their profession and the community at large.

3. Build rapport through a board retreat.

Having a cohesive board is paramount to having a successful board. This is the primary reason we have an annual board retreat with a destination outside of the city. While it is important to thoughtfully plan the agenda for the retreat and clearly identify the goals for the foundation in the coming year, the real benefit is the camaraderie shared among members.

Building friendships and trust among volunteers is ultimately what leads to board members feeling comfortable sharing their visions for the foundation, working together to execute a plan of action, and remaining accountable to one another. In addition to the intangible benefits afforded, an annual board retreat also serves to focus the board’s attention on developing a set of deliverables to accomplish the foundation’s goals for the year.

4. Every member must have an elevator speech.

It is imperative that every member of the foundation have an elevator speech. As a fundraising board, each volunteer must be able to clearly articulate the mission of the foundation, the primary objectives of the foundation, where the donations come from, and what programs are supported by the foundation. We feel so strongly about this that we created a laminated business card containing this information, which is provided to each board member at the beginning of every year. In addition to these objective facts, each member is asked to personalize his or her elevator speech at the annual retreat with short, simple, and succinct details such as:

  • Why I feel it’s important that you support the foundation.
  • Why our foundation matters to the community and our profession.
  • What opportunity donors have to become involved with the foundation.
  • Who is served by our foundation (a personal story of involvement in one of the Foundation programs is ideal here).

I've included our card below (front and back), so you can borrow and adapt it for use by your own foundation board members.


David J. Duncan

Duncan is the president of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation and a partner at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP.