Strategic board recruitment

We’re currently working with several nonprofit clients on board recruitment. Finding the right mix of perspectives for your board is a critical practice in building a thriving organization but a process too often overlooked or done poorly.

Create the Future, is loaded with great information, tips, and how-to’s on this subject and others. Their excellent, step-by-step article on designing a board recruitment process is available free here.

Here are our highlights and timeless reminders on the subject of board recruitment.

1.  Appreciate that deliberate recruitment is critical. You’re a get-it-done kind of person—or you wouldn’t be leading a small or emerging nonprofit organization—but you must resist the temptation to just find “any warm body.” Board recruitment is essential to a strong functioning board; board strength is essential to whether your organization exists in a few years. Given that perspective, don’t dismiss recruitment as some minor annoyance that got added to your to-do list this month.

2.  Keep your eye on the horizon. One of the greatest challenges in recruitment is that you should be basing your decisions on what your organization is going to need from its leaders 3-5 years from now, rather than focusing on an empty seat or vacancy that has just been created today. As we have so often said in a range of Rich TIPS on many topics, nonprofit professionals’ tendency to “shoot from the hip,” valiantly operating hand-to-mouth or on a shoestring, doesn’t support long-range sustainability.

3. Filling out a board grid is a perfect way to reveal your board’s strengths and weaknesses, revealing your current make-up with regard to age, gender, ethnicity, industry, experience, and point of view. Just because you believe your board is “currently doing fine” doesn’t mean that you aren’t imbalanced in one or more areas that you aren’t seeing.

4. Star power. Depending on the industry you’re in, you may get a great boost from recruiting a local “celebrity” who brings credence and recognition to your cause. Two recent RMA clients have effectively leveraged the involvement of a “name” board member (one being a local media personality who has a personal connection to their mission; the other has a popular former Denver Bronco who is a champion networker). If this isn’t in the cards for you, though, don’t stay focused on it.

5. Move past comfort and complacency. Move consciously outside your familiar realm of friends and supporters. It is human nature to join or form homogeneous groups, but you must resist continuing to build a board of people who look alike, think alike, and have the same experience. Startup nonprofits almost always have board members who are homogeneous, but when it’s time for your nonprofit to evolve into a growth stage, you must expand your reach.

6. Every voice heard. Consider whether your board reflects the population you serve. A “customer” or client perspective is often overlooked, which may widen the awkward disconnect between your decision-makers and the people you claim to be serving. A graduate from your program or a person who has overcome the life challenge that you’re addressing can be invaluable, and not just for public relation’s sake.

7.  Show and tell. Make sure you allow time for a board candidate to tour your operations and observe a board meeting. The “choosing” should be going both ways. Don’t assume that every candidate should presume to be elected; keep some flexibility in the process for the potential option that it isn’t a fit. Some people may be an excellent resource for your nonprofit, but not in a board role (see our TIP on whether you should consider an advisory board).

8. Never stop recruiting. As the article referenced above discusses in detail, board recruitment should always be part of a larger approach to board development, a year-round activity whether you actually have an opening or not.

9. Have it in writing. Make sure you have documents ready that include a description of the director role, with your precise expectations regarding attendance, level of participation, and financial expectations. Here comes a string of clichés, but the devil really is in the details, and these factors can make or break the deal down the road.

10. No time to waste. Again, with regard to the issue of recruitment being part of a larger board-building focus, remember that the vote to elect a new board member is the beginning, not the end. Involve and engage your newest board member soon and meaningfully—or all your efforts on recruitment may be wasted.

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