4 Reasons Why You Need a Board Recruitment Process

Organizational Management June 17, 2013

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

When we conducted our Small Membership Insight Survey, we asked participants what they wanted to know from their membership peers. A number of participants wanted advice and tips on board recruitment, including understanding  how to “recruit and attract board members that bring substance to the table.”

Now I’ve been secretary to an association board of directors, but I'm no board recruitment expert. So in order to respond to this request for information, I did some research and gathered tips and advice from those who are! The result is a new resource on Developing A Board Recruitment Process.

Why focus on the process?

Board recruitment can be a daunting task - especially if there is no process in place. So here are 4 key reasons why your organization should develop and follow a board recruitment process:

1. You’re filling a crucial leadership job

In an article on Creating the Future, Hildy Gottlieb reminds us: “When we recruit board members, we forget that we are "hiring" folks to do a job - one of the most critical jobs in the whole organization: leadership and governance.” After all, these new recruits are going to be responsible for the financial and cultural well-being of your organization. They’ll be among your key spokespersons and possibly driving fundraising too.

As Michelle Halsey suggests in an article, Filling the gap: Recruiting new directors for your board, most organizations (including your association or non-profit), follow a structured application and interview process when hiring for paid staff roles. So why is it the process is often less defined when searching for unpaid organizational leaders? Halsey suggests that an “undefined process would not take into account the needs of the organization or responsibility to clients and co-workers. Recruiting for a volunteer board position is just as important as recruiting for a paid position and should be undertaken with the same care and diligence.”

So whether you are a staff person coordinating the recruitment process, a board member helping out in “filling the gap” on your board, or a member of the nominating or board development committee, it’s important to follow a recruitment process to ensure you identify, assess and choose the right candidate for this very important job.

2. It’s not speed dating - you’re building a relationship

While Tesse Akpeki suggests “online dating holds lessons for board recruitment”, you’re after more than a brief encounter with a new board member - you're building a long-term relationship. This new recruit will become a very active member of your immediate board family, and you’ll likely be working together to lead the organization for one or two years.

But “there are a number of lessons that can be translated from online dating into recruitment.” as Akpeki suggests, such as: “being able to communicate key clear messages of what matters, the clarity of expectations, a willingness to be honest about what matters, working out the level of commitment on offer and assessing whether each partner initially presents a way of meeting the specific needs that are verbalised in the initial request (for board, the recruitment advert).”  

With a defined recruitment process in place, you can ensure your board’s and the potential recruit’s needs, values and skills are a match. And, as Akpeki notes, “If the dating experience does not work, each person can say thank you for the experience and walk away ‘ a great person, but not the right member for the board role or conversely a good board, but not the board for me’.”

3. It can help avoid a “bad fit” or the need to “uninvite” someone who’s been asked to join the board

When there is an established recruitment process in place (that includes a well-defined role and expectations as well as an application and screening process) all candidates are qualified and evaluated using consistent criteria and process. This means that each candidate applies for this volunteer role, so it doesn’t come down to a question of who they know or who has referred them (e.g., the Chair or another board member). All candidates are screened by the same criteria to see if there is a good fit and that there are no potential conflicts of interest.

Greg Laney, president of the Atlanta Area Compensation Association, said that for his association, board members are nominated for certain positions. However, these board members aren't nominated based on a popularity contest. Current board members, and other members in the association, take the time to determine who would be a good fit for the board for the upcoming year.

"Our board has about 12 people... and then we have directors at large that handle specific projects. Over time, our current board and our current members get to meet everyone through the networking opportunities," Laney said. "We learn about the experiences and skill sets of our members. They actively recruit throughout the year and encourage members to sign up for board duties. Through that, we then nominate board members for the next year."

4. It’s an on-going task, not a one-time exercise

It doesn’t have to be a challenging and urgent task to “fill a gap” right now. While you may have one seat open this year, there will always be turnover of the board. So it’s important to have a process in place rather than a stop-gap measure. While you’ll want to revisit the specific criteria on a regular basis to ensure they suit your current needs, having a recruitment process in place takes the pressure off. And if your process includes maintaining on-going applications and leads, you may be able to jump right to the screening process when you need to fill a board seat.

New resource offers tips on board recruitment process

So if you’re convinced you should develop a new recruitment process or fine-tune your existing procedures, you might want to check out the new article in our Membership Knowledge Hub:

Developing a Board Recruitment Process

This article offers an outline of the 4-step recruitment process you might want to follow, including:

Step 1: Define your needs
Step 2: Find candidates
Step 3: Screening and selection
Step 4: Provide an orientation for new board members

The article also offers additional resources, including sample Board Application Forms; additional articles on Board training and leadership and more.

You can read this free article here:  Developing a Board Recruitment Process.

What are your biggest challenges in recruiting new board members? Let us know in the comments below.

Image source:  Smiling designer... courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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