Lay the Foundation

A strong foundation includes having written board member expectations, job descriptions, policies, in addition to the written process, strategic board composition matrix, and the goals for incoming board leadership. Many organizations keep all of these materials together in a packet called a board recruitment plan.

Before recruiting new board members, review, revise, or create the following:

  • An updated board member job description An up-to-date job description informs prospective board members of their roles and responsibilities
  • A board member letter of agreement The letter of agreement, sometimes referred to as board expectations, helps both new board members and current officers understand exactly what is expected of each board member

Providing this information early is an easy way to improve your board recruitment process.

It is also important to have established policies regarding terms, term limits, conflicts of interest, the process and criteria for re-nomination to the board or for removing a board member, and the board’s role in fundraising. Sample job descriptions, letters of agreement, and policies can be found in The Nonprofit Policy Sampler.

Once you have your policies in place, mapping an organized recruitment process not only makes it possible to fill vacancies on a board in an effective and speedy manner, but it creates a foundation for building a skillful and diverse board over the long-term. The combination allows the organization to cultivate potential candidates and to prepare them to join the board when the time is right.

Who plays which role in board recruitment?

The search for board members should be an ongoing collaborative effort by the individual board members, the appointed committee, the full board, and the chief executive, with the board leading the process, usually through the governance committee.

A well-balanced and functioning board depends on the sustained hard work of the governance committee. Its task is to find the best candidates, introduce them to the benefits of serving on your board, interest them in joining the board, present the candidates to the full board, and after the final nomination and vote make sure the new board members are well equipped to do the best possible job.

Individual board members may suggest candidates and committee chairs may recommend committee members who are not current board members.

The chief executive can provide valuable assistance to the governance committee by assessing the board’s current needs, identifying valuable prospects, and helping to inform and integrate new board members into their new roles.

While the chief executive has a role to play in board recruitment, they should not handpick board members or exert undue influence in selecting candidates.  It is a clear conflict of interest for a chief executive to select the board members who ultimately assess their performance and determine their compensation. The chief executive should not recommend for possible nomination individuals with whom they have a personal, business, or family relationship and should clearly disclose if they have a prior or current relationship with a candidate being considered by the governance committee.

Ready for the next step?

Have you outlined your recruitment process? If so, now it’s time to think about your ideal board composition.

Envision your ideal board