Board Recruitment Process
Having a formal board recruitment process allows organizations to build an effective, skillful, and diverse board. It also allows you to fill vacancies on the board in an efficient and effective manner.
As evidenced in Purpose-Driven Board Leadership, Boards represent and govern our organizations on behalf of communities. Who is on the board can drastically change how the board operates and what role it plays.
In our recent research study, Leading with Intent, almost half of executives report that they do not have the right board members to “establish trust with the communities they serve.” Only a third of boards (32%) place a high priority on “knowledge of the community served,” and even fewer (28 percent) place a high priority on “membership within the community served.”
To achieve the best results, start by:
- Defining your recruitment goals
- Analyze the present composition of your board. A board profile can help you determine the specific skills and qualities that would benefit your board.
- Ask and reflect on these questions:
- Is your board representative of your community?
- Do you need more people who have lived experience relevant to your work?
- Do you need extra fundraising capacity?
- Is the board diverse enough to benefit from different points of view?
BoardSource has an extensive sample matrix tool to help you evaluate your current board composition and plan for recruitment efforts. A matrix is not a checklist, and boards should be careful not to reduce their board recruitment strategy to a “shopping list” for board candidates based on any one characteristic. Instead, the matrix should be a guide to helping boards identify the ideal combination of skills, networks, experiences, and background that will help move the organization forward, and which can be clearly articulated to potential candidates.
Board recruitment is a year-round process. The governance committee focuses on the search process on a regular basis. The board chair appoints members to this committee who know the organization thoroughly, have extensive contacts in the community, and are fair judges of candidates. One of the committee’s tasks is to find the best candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and communities, share with them the benefits of board service, present the candidates to the full board, and after the final nomination, make sure the new board members are well equipped to do the best possible job.
A diverse and growing pool of candidates adds to the success of a governance committee. Committee members are constantly observing their environment and community to locate suitable prospects; other board members can be invited to share their suggestions as well. Governance committee members can be role model while serving as ambassadors to enhance the profile of the organization and make its mission known. They should portray the board member’s role objectively and accurately as well as present any challenges in positive terms.
If your board is lacking the diversity you seek, you may find that relying on the personal networks of current board members to identify new board candidates will only reinforce that challenge. If that’s the reality that you face, consider other ways of identifying potential board candidates. That could include deep networking through community organizations, your organization’s volunteer network, or leaders in your current or past client community. It might also include formalized search strategies such as posting your board position on a nonprofit board job search list such as LinkedIn or tapping a board search firm or matching program. Whatever your candidate identification methods are, it requires discipline and diligence to find the right candidates, and may require that you take more time than you have in the past. Strategic board recruitment isn’t about speed and ease — it’s about investing the time to get it right through an intentional process. If the organization’s bylaws allow non-board members to serve on committees, inviting prospects to serve on committee is a great way to identify future board members.
The chief executive’s role in the board recruitment process
The chief executive, having the most intimate knowledge of the organization, can provide valuable assistance to the governance committee by helping assess the organization and the board’s current leadership needs, identifying valuable prospects, and helping to inform and integrate new board members into their new roles. Chief Executives report to and support the board.
Based on the relationship with the potential prospect, decide who will make the initial contact. Then, if a board member knows the prospective board candidate, they might invite the prospect to an informational meeting to share more about the organization, board service, and gauge interest. It’s important to note that only the full board can vote on a new board member. The chair should follow-up with a letter and appropriate material describing the organization. Subsequent contacts can build on previous feedback. This may include an invitation to a special organizational event (concert, exhibition), a tour of the services (homeless center, hospice unit, new office building), lunch with board members, or invitation to attend a board meeting. It is important to be sensitive to the reaction of the prospect. If they clearly indicate that this is not the right time to take on additional responsibilities, accept that. Continue to stay in touch with the prospective board candidate and offer other ways to get involved with the organization and revisit the board opportunity at a later time. Board cultivation can take more time for certain candidates.
Extending the invitation to join the board
If the cultivation process has been successful and the prospect clearly indicates their willingness to being considered as an official candidate (after understanding the commitment), the governance committee presents the candidate to the full board for a vote. Voting on new board members usually takes place at the annual meeting as per the bylaws, which is also when a subset of board members rotate off after their term is up. It may be necessary to vote to fill a sudden vacancy at other times.
After the board has approved membership, the chair or another suitable board member will extend an official invitation to the new board member.
All newly elected board members need a thorough orientation, no matter how extensive their previous board experience. Every board has its special characteristics, personal dynamics, requirements for involvement, and a structure that needs clarification. The governance committee with the chief executive’s involvement typically organizes the orientation for new board members. Orientation should include information on the roles and responsibilities of the board as well as specific information pertaining to the organization.
Board development is an ongoing obligation of the governance committee and one that ensures the board is filled with the best community leaders who are able and interested in appropriately governing the organization into the future.
101 Resource | Last updated: February 21, 2023
Resources: The Board-Building Cycle: Finding, Engaging, and Strengthening Nonprofit Board Members; Nonprofit Board Answer Book