daughter turned 14, she decided to do something that had long been on her bucket list: she attended her first speed-dating event. “I was a little nervous,” she recalled. “I’d never done anything like it.”
This wasn’t speed-dating for singles—Ms. Oram is happily married. This was a matchmaking night for professionals seeking to join a nonprofit board of directors. And Ms. Oram, a publishing executive who lives in White Plains, N.Y., got lucky with her very first pairing. She hit it off with the board president of the Clay Art Center, a small nonprofit dedicated to ceramics.
“I wrote on my thank-you note that we had a great first date,” Ms. Oram said.
She now serves on the center’s board, volunteering her marketing and data-analysis skills to help fundraise. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in terms of commitments,” she said. “The other board members are some of the most fun, interesting, smart women I’ve ever met.”
According to the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, there are 35,000 nonprofits in the New York City metro area, and they all have boards—16 members on average. There’s a lot of opportunity for professionals looking to lend a hand.
The difficulty? Finding a good fit. That’s where matchmaking services come in.
Word-of-mouth is by far the top strategy used to fill boards. But nonprofits increasingly are turning to alternative tactics, said
deputy executive director of Volunteer New York!, which organizes the annual “Nonprofit Board Speed Dating” event attended by Ms. Oram.
By broadening its recruiting efforts, she said, a nonprofit can create a board that better reflects its community and the population it serves.
The area’s biggest matchmaking event for nonprofit boards, according to its organizer, the San Francisco-based Volunteer Center, is Board Match, held annually in Midtown Manhattan.
Last year’s event, organized like a job fair, attracted more than 500 candidates and 100 nonprofits ranging from the Hart Island Project, with its $30,000 operating budget, to big names like Goodwill Industries of Greater NY and Northern NJ.
“Our goal is to democratize board service,” said Volunteer Center Executive Director
While some assume that only well-connected professionals with deep pockets can serve on a board, that’s true of only the largest nonprofits, Mr. Power said.
Smaller nonprofits often seek board members who can volunteer professional expertise in areas such as marketing and finance, he said. The average nonprofit requires each board member to make a donation of $500 to $1,000, and half have no minimum at all.
There is probably a seat for any able person who wants one, he said.
Not surprisingly, there are services akin to dating sites that match candidates who create online profiles with local nonprofits including United Way of New York City’s BoardServeNYC site, and charitySTRONG’s onBOARD.
Among the newest entrants is CariClub, a matchmaking site launched in New York that is available to candidates through their employers. It focuses on young professionals seeking to join the junior and associate boards of nonprofits with a budget of $1 million or more.
Millennials are more likely than past generations to seek board positions at a young age, said CariClub founder and chief executive officer
and nonprofits are eager to recruit them.
Members who create a profile are matched with nonprofits based on their interests, education, work and volunteer experience.
a 28-year-old lawyer who works in mergers and acquisitions at Davis Polk & Wardwell, said that until her employer introduced her to CariClub, joining a board wasn’t on her radar. “I never thought of getting involved in that world as a young person,” she said.
But after she expressed an interest in entrepreneurship and high-school students, CariClub paired her with BUILD NYC, a teen-mentoring program.
Following an interview with the nonprofit, Ms. Brinig joined the associate board and started attending monthly meetings. She and a fellow member recently organized a treadmill workout-class fundraiser that brought in $1,400.
“When you’re really aligned with something, it’s easy to show up and make time,” Ms. Brinig said.
Just like the dating world, the nonprofit world also includes matchmaking professionals who offer one-to-one introductions.
chief program officer at Governance Matters, a nonprofit consulting firm for fellow nonprofits, said that in making a match, she meets with candidates to review their interests, skills, ability to make a time commitment and expectations.
Nonprofit clients typically pay Governance Matters $1,500 to $2,000 for each board position filled. The service is free for candidates.
After an introduction is made, Ms. Paxton said, it’s up to the candidate and nonprofit to decide if there’s chemistry. She encourages candidates to ask, “Do I like these people? Do I want to be on a board with these people?”
“There are so many great causes out there,” she said. “Board service should be a happy experience.”
Write to Anne Kadet at Anne.Kadet@wsj.com
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