One of the most critical aspects of nonprofit governance is ensuring that we have the right people at the table. This includes staff, volunteers and the board of directors. The board is the ED’s partner in leading the organization; seeing that the mission and vision are held fast and steering top-level decision-making towards accomplishing strategic goals and priorities. These activities are central to ensuring we are serving our communities as best we can, and that we are spending resources wisely.
The folks who are on our board, then, are critical to driving the conversations and decision-making at the board level. As leaders (senior leadership, EDs, Board Chairs and Vice Chars, etc.), we can help ensure that our board make-up is reflective of our communities and that we have a variety of perspectives, lived experiences and access to resources and networks around the board table.
Designing our board begins even before the recruitment process. See the tips below for some ideas on how we can create a rockstar board.
1. Board Assessment
The board member acquisition process is laid out well here by Suanne Miedema for Imagine Canada. Starting with an assessment, organizations can determine what skills, perspectives and expertise are needed at the table, and moving right on through to the interview and selection process. If a rundown of the steps is needed, this is a great place to start.
2. Always Be Recruiting
Even if we’re not actively recruiting, we can always keep in mind that at any moment a board member could resign, new opportunities could arise or other factors that could impact the board makeup. If we meet someone or think of someone that could be a good candidate for the future, we can make note of it so that when we ARE recruiting, we already have a list of potentials to discuss and approach.
3. Identify Gems Already Within
Have a look around. Maybe there are already people involved with our organizations that could make even more substantial contributions. Are there volunteers already serving our organization that could contribute to our board? These volunteers already know bout our mission, vision and values, they may have a greater understanding of the front-line work than others on the board (other than the ED), and may provide a fresh perspective to board work.
The best way to recruit is to make the ask. We can put out calls, advertise on our website, post it on social media and volunteer boards, but one of the most successful recruitment practices is for board members to go out and ask their ideal candidate directly to consider joining the boards. It’s really that simple. Depending on the complexity of our board and size of our organization what that ask looks like in practice may change. The invitation may have to come from a nominating committee for example, but in either case, making the ask directly rather than waiting for that person or similar applicants to apply is more effective.
5. Be Inclusive
Interrogate the qualifications and requirements that we’re asking of the prospective board member. Are we asking for qualifications that are actually irrelevant to the role? Is it critical that the candidate have a University degree, for example? Must they have had 5 years on a Board already? Are there some lived experiences that can qualify the candidate instead? We must continually ask ourselves, if we are requiring qualifications that are excluding folks from our communities without a real purpose or reason. We have to remember that our boards should refect the people we serve.
6. Be Careful of ‘Fit’
It is important that board members are able to work well together, but selecting candidates based on ‘fit’ can be a way for biases and prejudices to end up driving the decision-making process. We don’t want people who are ‘just like us’ on the board. We want diversity. Diversity in ideas, perspectives and experiences is the only way we’ll continue to propel the sector forward and create solutions to the entrenched issues we’re facing.
7. Diversity Must Be Intentional
The diversity of Boards in the nonprofit sector is not increasing at the rate it should. In fact, it’s almost stagnant. It is up to those of us on boards and in positions of leadership to increase and improve diversity. Research and experience prove that diverse boards are more effective in terms of organizational outcomes. And, it is the only way forward if our sector is to continue to survive and thrive. Check out this toolkit from DiverseCity on Diversity in Governance for practical action plans to improve board diversity.
Once we’ve got a great bunch of people on the board, let’s start looking at our board effectiveness with this guide from Wild Apricot. You can also check out PLC’s blogs on boards; 10 Resources for Healthy Boards & Organizations and 7 Resources for Effective Nonprofit Board Meetings.
Have you got some tips for board recruitment that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them! Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
The PLC Team