Recruiting board members? Ask for help.

In my last post, Recruiting board members, make a list, I shared this tip for coming up with candidate names:

“If you are really stuck, you can ask people who know people to help you brainstorm (more about that in a later post).”

As promised, let me say a bit more about asking for help.

It’s ideal to have your next board recruits ready-to-pick from an in-house farm team of committees volunteers, and donors. But most boards that find themselves asking for our help to build a stronger board haven’t created that team (if they had, they probably wouldn’t need our help.)

Even if you have built a farm team, it may be pretty homogeneous, lacking the rich diversity of backgrounds, ethnicity and experiences that you desire.

So, many boards can benefit from recruiting members beyond their inner circle. Here’s an example of how one organization went about it.

I’m working with a neighborhood scale organization that through a series of circumstances, has a board of just a few members. With very few paid staff, this organization needs a true working board willing to take on a number of projects itself. So it is interested in recruiting board members and also volunteers to roll up their sleeves and take on some very practical assignments.

Once we clarified the work ahead, we developed ideal candidate profiles and translated those into  a “Call for Board members.” Knowing who we were looking for helped us think about who we wanted to ask for help.

Who we invited.

We brainstormed a list of everything that we could think of, whether we knew them or not, who might know someone who had the qualifications that we were looking for. We made sure that this list reflected the diversity of perspectives we were looking for.

We included the clergy or social action committee chairs of local houses of worship.  We included particularly active past board members, volunteers or donors. We added the names of program partners, local elected officials, the nearby colleges, the neighborhood association, PTOs, local businesses, neighbors, and even friends of board members.

By the time we were done, we had a list of 20-30 people to ask for help.

How did this list differ from people we might have considered candidates for the board? Some of them might be great board candidates. But we knew many were already committed to other organizations. But that’s why we knew they could be helpful… because they were active and knew people we didn’t know.

Instead of a big commitment, we hoped they could give us an hour of their time.

How it worked.

Most were invited to a brainstorming session but a few we put aside to talk to in person (e.g. elected officials). Board members divvied up the names and sent out invites through email, by phone, or even a more formal letter (the method depended on how well the current board knew each person). Each person received a one page backgrounder on the organization and the call for nominations.

About 15 people came to help! We had food and beverages, gave them a quick tour of the facilities, and then the Executive Director and Board Chair gave them more background on why we were looking and who we were looking for.

We handed out a nominations sheet, asked them to list people they thought would fit our categories and why. And of course, we asked them to let us know whether they would be willing to help us contact any of the people they recommended (most did). We gave them the option of recommending people for the board or even a committee assignment.

This group was so eager to help out that we must have received 100 names that night. One of the helpers even contacted by text  a person she was recommending while we were sitting there and got a quick response back that this person would be very interested in hearing about the board. (The committee is right on it).

Another helper volunteered herself, even though we truly weren’t trying to put people on the spot or ask them to be board members. Both nominees fit our profile perfectly!

Not only did we get names, but we also received many new leads for volunteers and inkind services. And we introduced a dozen new people to the organization who didn’t know much about it before.

Other options

Some organizations choose to do this process in two steps: 1) bring a group together to explain what they are looking for, then after giving them a week or so to think and maybe even put out a few feelers, to 2) bring the group back together to offer names and vet candidates together.

Some organizations put outside people on their nominations committee to achieve the same purpose.

Next steps

Don’t forget to send out thank you notes right away, letting people know how grateful you are for their help and that you’ll be following up with them.

A week later, we gathered together to look through all the recommendations. One of the board members volunteered to put all the prospective candidates into a spreadsheet by name, background, who referred them, any contact information that we had, and more columns for follow up.

The board identified about 5 or 6 priority candidates to talk to right away.

But every name is important. So each board member agreed to call a person who came to our brainstorming session to thank them again and to get a little more background information about each person they suggested. (And any contact information they might have).

Then the Board members will get together again to make a short list of candidates for this board cycle. And to connect with other recommended people for volunteer needs for for future committee work (once the chairs are recruited).

One thing that I’ve found to be true over and over again: many people are willing to help, if you just ask them.

Here are a few related posts:

Recruiting board members? Make a list

Six Roadblocks to Board Recruiting

Helping Working Boards Work Better, Here’s a Start

7 responses to Recruiting board members? Ask for help.

  1. Karen

    What a terrific process for broadening the capture pool and helping ensure a diversity of candidates! I especially like how you got a text-in-the moment candidate and process participant volunteer candidates too. Even bonus – more volunteer and partner leads. A best-practice for sure!

  2. Sherry Truhlar

    Gayle, thanks for describing the process in such detail. Given the success you are sharing, I am sure a couple of charity auction committees would be willing to give event a try right now.

  3. Amy Eisenstein

    Gayle – This is something that I’m constantly working on boards with, and this is a creative, fresh idea. As you mention, it’s so important that boards know what types of people and skills they are looking for, before starting the process.

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