With the advent of board term limits, one thing is for sure, the nonprofit board generally completely turns over about every four to six years.  Keeping this in mind, both board members and executive leadership need to be on the lookout for potential directors who are competent to tackle the sometimes-unpredictable challenges of the future. Just as unexpected crises, like Covid-19, will confound the new president-elect and other board members, those who occupy the nonprofit boardroom must be well equipped to deal with the inevitable issues that will arise.

If your current recruitment process involves having past directors take off their obligatory year between terms then coming back on to the board. Or you place friends or relatives on your board because it’s convenient.  I encourage you to look at your board recruitment process. 

Here are 3 easy steps for board recruitment.

Step 1: Identify – Board Profiling

The board should assess what characteristics and skills their current board brings to the organization and what gaps exist on the board that needs to be filled when recruiting new members.  Consider both the attributes and skills of prospective board members.  Remember, we should look for different skills and strengths from our board members depending on our stage of development and other circumstances.

In beginning the search process, the board needs to ask the following questions:

  1. What is the current composition of your board?
  1. What characteristics, skills, experience, and backgrounds does your board need now?
  1. What gaps does your board need to fill in the future?
  1. What are the priorities for identifying and recruiting new members?
  1. What other attributes or qualities are important for your board members to have?

Utilize the board matrix to ensure board diversity. 

  • Defining board diversity

    Board members have a surprisingly demanding and varied job to do.  Rarely can one board member fulfill most of the necessary functions.  If that were the case, few boards would need more than two or three members.  By focusing on defining board diversity in terms of skills and aptitude, we can create a structure for matching organizational needs with acceptable candidates.  Various backgrounds and experiences (professional and personal, as well as cultural and ethical) add to the quality of the board.

    Other important characteristics could include leadership skills, community involvement, public recognition, political connections, fundraising capacities, and shared values and commitment.  Familiarity with the Club’s Movement and community can be important. Sometimes the presence of a few donors, professional insiders, customers, and clients on the board can positively benefit the Club.  These examples all focus on maximizing the special value of each board member in the Club.
  • Why is a diverse board a benefit?
  • A homogeneous board may not always be ready to deal effectively with problems due to an inherent near-sightedness.  Diversity on a board breeds varying opinions, approaches, attitudes, and solutions.  It requires open-mindedness, curiosity, acceptance, and responsiveness, which ultimately can facilitate understanding and willingness to work together.  This is clearly not the easiest way to force a group to make decisions; but different or opposing backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, habits, and norms can force a consensus-oriented approach to conflict management.
  • Boards often are expected to represent the organization’s constituency.  This is a way to create accountability and form a link with the constituents.  A uniform board may not make the necessary effort to create this sense of community leadership.
  • Diversity for the sake of diversity, even without pointed constituent representation, can form a base for innovation and creative thinking.
  • A diverse board sends a message and sets a powerful example for the entire organization.

Note:  All decisions made and actions taken by the board should be considered against the framework of the current bylaws.

Step 2: Cultivate – Recruit a Pool of Candidates for Each Seat You Have Open –Develop a list of Prospects

Scenario A: Individuals suggested by the board are asked to apply
The Board member referring the potential prospective should first be able to articulate why they think the prospect will fit the organization’s qualifications criteria.

Then, when the prospect is approached, the person recruiting him/her should make it clear that the organization will be interviewing more than one prospect for the open board seat, and that you’d like them to apply.

Here’s the difference:

a) George, I’m on the XYZ Agency Board. Will you consider being on our board?

b) George, I’m on the XYZ Agency Board. We are talking to a number of prospects for the board seat we have open, and you’ve been mentioned as a great prospect. Our recruitment process includes a number of steps, including an interview with the Board Development Committee. Would you consider putting in an application?

This approach brings a degree of control back to the board. Nothing is assumed. Prospects compete just as they would for any job. The decision of whether or not they are eventually invited to join the board is entirely up to the Board.

Scenario B: Individuals Come to You, Asking to Serve It is the rare board that never has to resort to Scenario A. But having potential board members approach the organization is certainly the preferable approach.

There are ways of seeking out these potential board members – ways we don’t generally associate with recruiting for a board:

  • Make it known you are looking! It seems obvious, but get the word out! XYZ Agency is recruiting for board members. Isn’t that what you would do if you had a paid position open?
  • In public speeches on behalf of the organization, let the crowd know that you are always on the lookout for good people who want to serve as volunteers or board members.
  • In breakfast clubs, networking groups, etc., when you have the opportunity to make announcements, ask for folks interested in helping the agency by sitting on the board.
  • Advertise in your organization’s newsletter, on your website – wherever you are asking for assistance.

Your board is looking for qualified members. Get out and tell the world.

How and Where to Find Board Members:

Who to ask (about whom would make a good board member):

  • Colleagues;
  • board members of other nonprofits;
  • the local media;
  • chief professional officer (CPO) and other senior staff;
  • board members;
  • others?

Who to consider for board membership:

  • current and prospective major donors;
  • community leaders;
  • chief professional officers of local or national corporations;
  • owners of small businesses;
  • individuals in professions related to the organization’s mission;
  • those who have benefited from the organization’s services;
  • other ideas?

Where to look for prospective board members:

  • churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions;
  • trade, professional, and fraternal associations;
  • organizations representing various racial and ethnic groups;
  • local colleges and universities;
  • other ideas?

Potential Board Members

  • Movers are the obvious movers and shakers in the community.
  • Comers are not yet fully recognized as leaders by others in the community, although they possess many leadership qualities.  They seem to be in the right places and doing the right things.  They are gaining recognition.  The Boys & Girls Club might be able to develop them, through board service, into community leaders.
  • Sleepers are not obvious leaders but have tremendous hidden energy and skills.  Board service for a Boys & Girls Club can harness, focus, and unleash their talents.
  • Emerging Leaders are recognized by their participation in community and/or corporate training programs (e.g., Leadership Edinburg) designed for people on the rise in their community.
  • Community Newcomers have relocated for personal or professional reasons, and they may be interested in developing strong community ties in their new hometown.

Step 3: Recruit- The Application Process-Get to Know them as they get to know you.  

The Board Development Committee sets up a one-on-one interview with the potential applicant to answers questions.   The goal of the interview is to further determine if they might fit into the organization, so they can hit the ground running if and when they are appointed.

Make sure you communicate ASAP with potential applicants.  If it’s a thumbs down.  Approach the situation carefully. 

Scenario Thumbs Down – Say The Board Development Committee met last night and decided we have some work to do before adding new members.  Can we keep your name on our list?

If it’s a thumbs up make sure you communicate the process to include the timeline and their point of contact for any questions.  This conversation should set the tone for how serious the board takes the process.  It will let a new board member know that their role and responsibilities are serious.  

Potential applicants should have the opportunity to meet numerous organizational leaders to determine if the fit is right for them.  Prior to coming on the board invite them to a board meeting as apart of the process. This will allow for others including the Executive Director/ CEO to weigh in.

By this stage, a potential candidate who gets this far would unlikely receive a no vote from the board.  Don’t make a person go through all these steps and vote no.  It will create bigger problems. You have thoroughly vetted them for their passion for the mission, assessed their fit, and clarified expectations. 

I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated.  Sharing is caring. Leave any questions below and I will get back to you or if you have additional steps you take in recruiting board members let me know.

If you are a CEO or ED of a nonprofit organization and want to learn from me and others join the Supporting World Hope Facebook Group.

You can follow me on Instagram @the_nonprofitexpert and other social media platforms @supportingworldhope: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest.

Categories Board Recruitment, Nonprofit Communiqué Blog


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