Courting board members is a year long affair

Many organizations that I encounter tell me that they have a very hard time finding and recruiting board members. It doesn’t take long, however, to discover that one of the reasons that they are having difficulty finding people is that they wait until the very last minute before their annual meeting to assemble a nominating committee and start looking for new candidates.

You really can’t do a good job at board recruitment if you try to do it in a month or two. You’ll have much better luck at finding committed and talented people if you think of board member identification and recruitment as an ongoing task.

Here’s how we’ve helped a number of our clients reshape their recruitment process and reinvigorate their board.

First, replace that ad hoc nominating committee with a full time Governance Committee (or board excellence committee, or whatever name you’d like). Make one of the committee members the project manager for new director recruitment. This doesn’t let the rest of the committee (or the full board for that matter) off the hook, it just makes sure that responsibility is clearly designated.

The Governance Committee should develop for board approval a comprehensive profile of what your organization needs in the ideal board profile… need in attributes, knowledge, connections and skills . (What some might call a matrix… more about that in another post). Then, the Committee can go about brainstorming who might fit those qualifications.

Set up an online site where you’ll keep a running history of your potential board recruits. There are a number of options to do this. A few possibilities include setting up a wiki, using the file sharing functions of Google Documents or, or set up a board site in Basecamp. Of course these files should be password protected for your committee.

Then, start compiling a list of potential board members. Include a few notes about who the prospective is and why your organization might be interested in them. Assign a contact to meet them to explore their interest and potential for your organization. Record notes from those meetings on the site so that you have a history of your relationship with your potential nominee. This is the place where you can keep notes? like “interested in board service but on sabbatical this year — recontact in 2008” or “not really interested in our organization, other priorities.”

Only take a person off the list when they finally make it to the board. You can organize your list (or lists) into categories like “Hot prospects for 2009” or “explored but not interested” or “revisit in 2011” so that they are easier to manage, but its helpful for future committee members to know who you might have approached in the past, even if they weren’t interested.

Add names that you are interested in, but may not even be aware of your organization. For example, I’m always on the lookout for potential board members for my own boards when reading the local newspapers including business and college news, or in my daily connections. I’ve found fabulous candidates that way.

While I do think that it’s great to have the luxury of selecting board members who have history with your organization by building the bench through committee or other volunteer work, there are times that organizations need to consider individuals without that history.? Like any new prospect, you can then design the strategy to connect and build their interest in your organization.

If you are doing this well, your list should grow. You might find that you are keeping track of 30 to 50 potential candidates. Don’t be alarmed. Your “hot prospects” list will most likely be a select few that meet the gaps you need to fill this year to meet your ideal board profile. The others are your reserve for the future.

If you follow this process, you’ll find that your pool of candidates has grown dramatically and that recruitment, while always a challenge, will no longer be a rushed and ill-conceived process.


P.S. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for improving board recruitment so send them along.

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