A. Develop a board profile. Analyze the skills, perspectives and relationships needed to support the work of the board and the organization. Compare the required attributes to the characteristics of current board members, then identify gaps between the two and develop very specific attributes for which you are recruiting new members.
Identify other essential considerations for board membership. Expertise, relationships and financial capacity are not the only qualifications for board membership. Other, less tangible, considerations, including a strong interest in the mission, potential fit with the defined organizational culture, and willingness to participate actively, are equally important to the effective leadership of the board.
- The most important element in board membership is a passion for the mission. The key to success for many of the exemplary boards we studied was the willingness of trustees to take a leadership role, even in times of crisis. What motivated these board members was their belief that the work of their organizations needed to be continued for the sake of the community. Their commitment to the mission went beyond their loyalty to any one individual.
B. Have a formal, year-round recruiting process that is clearly defined, with agreement in advance on how the process is handled, including:
- Who decides which candidates to approach.
- Who can initiate a discussion with a potential candidate to test his or her interest in board involvement
- Establish a well-planned process to interview prospective board members.
- Have a defined role the for executive director in the recruitment process. Since the executive director works closely with individual board members s/he and the candidate need to meet before a final decision is reached.
- Have a defined role for the board chair. As with the executive director, s/he will need to meet with the candidate before a final decision is made.
- Determine what materials should be gives to prospective board members.
- Decide what information potential board members will be asked to give the organization.
C. Make sure that all board members understand the priorities for board recruitment. There are several advantages to making sure that members understand exactly who the board is looking for. It focuses their thinking about who they already know, while at the same time allowing them to recognize a potential candidate they might meet.
D. Members should talk to everyone they know about the organization (although not necessarily the board). Board members should be doing this anyway, but especially as a way of testing out potential support for funding as well as board participation. If an organization knows who they are looking for, chances are members will find themselves in a conversation with someone who is a good fit, or with someone who can be a link to another potential candidate the agency is hoping to recruit.
E. Make sure that all board members know the protocols for approaching potential members. Otherwise members are going to find themselves in an embarrassing situation, where a candidate thinks they have been asked onto the board, when in fact they are just being given a preliminary interview.
F. Be able to articulate what makes board service rewarding at a given agency. Common motivations for board participation include commitment to mission, an opportunity to make a real difference, the chance to meet interesting or influential people, and the ability to meet an individual's personal or professional goals. It is important to be articulate and enthusiastic about an organization's strengths.
G. Tell prospects what you want them to do. Many times boards are afraid of laying out explicit expectations to potential board members in case they "scare them off." Since "how do we get rid of deadwood" is the second most frequently asked question about nonprofit boards, an organization should let people know what is expected of them right from the start. Also, as an example, while it may be obvious to the agency that they want the new high-net worth board member to make a leadership gift (and help bring on other members who can give at a higher levels), unless clearly stated in the recruitment process, the expectation may not be at all obvious to the new board member. Organizations need to inform candidates up front as to what is expected of them, so the prospect can make a decision about whether or not this is a role they want to play.
Be prepared to discuss opportunities for involvement other than board service. Not every potential candidate can or should join the board. If there is not an immediate fit, it is possible that the person might join a committee to see if his or her interests and ways of working are compatible with the organization's culture and priorities. Serving on a committee is also a good way for someone to get to know at least one aspect of the organization well before considering board membership.
- Having other ways to engage leadership volunteers can help if the candidate is not ready to join the board. It also helps cultivate the relationship with a potential board member. A prospective board member may want to hold off in order to complete board assignments with other organizations before s/he can give full attention to a ew board. The organization may still get the benefit of their wisdom and relationships without their having to take on governance responsibilities.
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