How to Recruit the Right Board Members

A critical component of board governance is the process of selecting new board members. According to BoardSource, “Nothing is more important to the health and sustainability of your organization than getting highly qualified and enthusiastic people to serve on your board.”

The process should be holistic in nature, as we refer to it in three parts — recruit, nominate, and onboard. Today’s article focuses on recruitment, and we’ll cover nomination and onboarding in the coming weeks.

Despite the importance of board member recruitment, it is often a challenge for nonprofits to implement a recruitment process that prioritizes the right mix of people and skill sets.

For a long time, nonprofit boards have tasked a nominating committee with identifying new board members to ensure a new slate will be voted upon at the annual meeting. This work is more often transactional than relational, and not very strategic. The nominating committee members simply ask the people in their circles to join, which creates homogenous boards of those with similar life experiences, demographics, and net worth.

Sometimes, the chief executive drives the process, hand-picking people they want to work with rather than going through a true nomination process. At best, the chief executive looks for those who would be easy to get along with. At worst, they look for alliances to bolster their power dynamic without questioning decisions or direction.

Neither extreme is healthy.

We encourage nonprofits to be proactive with recruitment. Here’s a few tips to improve how your organization identifies new leadership.

  • Create a comprehensive board matrix to understand current state and the gaps that exist in terms of skills, affiliations, demographics, and other important attributes. For instance, if you already have three attorneys on the board, there’s no need to recruit another. It’s best practice to have board members self-identify on a matrix rather than a chief executive or board chair guessing which board members fall into what category.

  • Have an updated term limit model that illustrates when board members will roll off the board so that you know how many people to recruit for the next fiscal year. Also, it helps to know if the aforementioned attorneys are all rolling off at the same time.

  • Prioritize diversity and determine what areas you need to develop on your board. For instance, if most of your board is over the age of 55, then prioritize recruitment of younger talent. If your board is all white (because one in five boards are), then prioritize recruiting people of color.

  • Consider designing an application process that can be shared broadly online and with donors and partners. This may seem unusual, but it works well to identify potential board members who do not work or live in the same circles as your current board members. Not every applicant will be ready for board service, but they may be a good fit for a committee or a program volunteer. This allows you to get to know them, and in time they may become a board candidate.

  • Think differently about professional affiliations. We had a client in the health sector with board members representing large hospital systems and insurance companies. We asked if they ever looked at the leadership of federally qualified health centers, in addition to the hospital systems, for recruitment. They never had. They realized they were missing a huge piece of the sector, which was also more diverse. Similar to this example, are there professional affiliations your board doesn’t currently include?

  • Work with a partner agency such as United Way or a chamber of commerce to communicate the attributes and expectations needed for your board. They may have candidates that they can connect you with, and some entities offer board match services.

  • Communicate with your corporate donors to ensure that your largest contributors know who represents their company on the board, when that person’s term will expire, and what you anticipate for the replacement of that person when their term ends. The more proactive you can be in this process, the more seamless the transition will be.

Next week, we will dive into the nominating process.

By Kerri Laubenthal Mollard

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