Board Matters: Be Strategic in Board Selection and Succession
Building a board is a continuous improvement process. You want committed, passionate, and expert members to help guide your nonprofit—and you want to continuously fine-tune the board to be its best.
Recruitment Best Practices
It’s challenging to find people with the right skills for board positions. Here are a few best practices:
Stay ahead. Regularly assess the board’s skills and talents, and begin searching for replacements ahead of time. Pay attention to the board mix and tenure. Be sure to capture senior members’ wisdom and knowledge before they go.
Create a pipeline. Often, the best source of future board members is a “friends of” group or a junior committee. These people already know and support your mission, and they are enthusiastic fans of your organization. They are a wellspring for the next wave of key board members.
Tap your current board. Your current board members are familiar with how the organization runs and what specific expertise might be lacking. Ask them to think about who might fill talent gaps and start cultivating those people for board positions.
Ask your advisors. Your CPAs, attorneys, insurance brokers, and other advisors are excellent resources when it comes to ideas for new board members. They are typically plugged into the community and have a wide circle of acquaintances and friends. Their clients—and your clients—can also be helpful.
Consider a nominating committee. If a casual approach to board recruitment isn’t working, try a nominating committee. This group is charged with finding the right people with the necessary skills. A more formal structure, deadlines, and deliverables often produce superior results.
Use term limits. For potential new members, knowing the length of their obligation can help get them to commit. For established members, term limits will ensure that you have fresh faces and that your organization benefits from new ideas.
Building in term extensions or renewals gives you the flexibility to keep key members longer if desired. Also, stagger terms to ensure continuity through transitions.
Look at size. Is your board sized right? Is it nimble enough to make quick and smart decisions? A board that’s too large adds to recruitment difficulties. Examine your bylaws to see what’s required.
Mind the politics. Significant donors are often asked to serve on boards as a thank you for their commitment. There’s nothing wrong with this arrangement, but be aware that you must maintain a good mix of members to be effective.
Also, remember that potential members may be scared off if they think a big donation is required for board membership. Be straightforward about financial expectations as you recruit.
Build a deep bench. Great board officers make a huge difference in board efficiency and effectiveness. A deep bench ensures exceptional leadership.
The bottom line? Approach board recruiting with an “always-on” attitude. Always be looking for your next board superstars.