Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What A Nonprofit Can Do To Recruit Board Members That Are The Best Possible Leaders For Its Specific Organization and How Board Recruitment Generally Works

Each nonprofit needs board members, so each seeks out intelligent, supportive, committed members of its community to become effective and empowering leaders for the organization's beneficiaries' best interests and the best interests of the organization, itself.

For most nonprofits, board members (board of directors, board of trustees, board members emeritae, etc.) are non-paid volunteers who offer the organization a specific talent, level of support, knowledge or experience, and so on.  The role of the board member for your organization should be defined in the organization's bylaws.

Nonprofits (either start up or long standing organizations) either need a full board built from scratch such as when a new nonprofit is being created, or will over the life of the organization need to fill board member positions from time to time because of natural attrition, infighting from politics, and so on.  Attrition must be expected as it is inevitable.  If attrition is high, please see the paragraph at the bottom of this post for suggestions to fix this issue. * 

Each nonprofit seeks more from its potential board members, though.  It must be remembered that a board member sits as a decision maker for the organization at an executive level.  It is important for nonprofits to operate fully fleshed out in the best interest of their beneficiaries and the organization's mission based goals.  So, having experts on committees, and in staff positions is optimal, of course.  It is equally as valuable for the organization to have additional experts who are in executive positions, if for no other practical reason than they will be able to educate or provide recommendations to fellow executives when the board begins discussing organizational policy, programs planning, etc. in order to have an informed voting body and to be able to come to decisions truly in the best interest of the organization.

A nonprofit must (from its birth through its operations year after year) consider some key organizational needs before setting out to recruit board members.  Recruiting board members should be guided by each individual nonprofit's own bylaws, profession's ethics, and should always be conducted openly and honestly, ideally by an unbiased and objective entity or party.

All board building (whether for a brand new nonprofit or for a seasoned agency), should be fully planned out before any of the actual work begins.  How board recruiting will work (including budgeting), successful recruitment, finalists interviews, and board training must be fully planned and mapped out.  Eventually these plans should be made organizational operations policy or procedures for all future board recruitment.

As well, an organization whose leaders always first consider their organization's mission when making any and each decision (from a day to day operation decision to a major new policy or relating to organizational oversight) rather than considering, for instance, their own interests, personal political interests, another's ego, etc. is someone who is doing their job correctly but who is also motivated by the correct thing first and foremost - the best interest of the organization's beneficiaries, the mission, and the organization's welfare (even above and beyond one's own ego, self, or interests or those of a colleague or friend's - especially if this is the organization's current culture.  If this is the case, this should be rectified.).  Fundamentally, this fact is key, according to professional nonprofit best practices, to best ensure the organization's success, effectiveness, potential, its reputation, and operations and budget efficiency.

For effective board building, before recruiting, the current executives should determine:

__ What are the organization's short term and long term mission-based programmatic, fundraising, organizational, and outreach goals?  What types of successful experience would benefit each and all of these?  For example, if your organization knows that within a year it will begin its first ever capital campaign, it would likely be helpful to recruit someone onto the board who has recent experience with a successful capital campaign another organization conducted.  Their invaluable expertise would be a benefit to the organization's executive leadership.  In this scenario, ideally, your organization (in addition) has someone else already on the fundraising committee (hopefully the chair) who also has qualified experience (ideally with yet another (third) organization's capital campaign) and has been a part of your organization's campaign's planning from the start.

__ Is the organization needing a specific specialist or professional expert to be readily available to its leadership who, in providing needed expertise or insight, would help the other leaders develop better key organizational vision, policy, programmatic planning, etc. such that the beneficiary/ies would be better served (i.e. at a lower cost, or easier, or quicker, or more extensively, etc.)?  For example, if a nonprofit provides legal expertise at no or a low cost to recent immigrants, it would help to have a lawyer or two on the board (or at least as a volunteer adviser to the board) who has/have experience  specific to immigration and immigrants.  These experts would sit on the board rather than volunteer in programs or work as staff (in addition to a programs volunteers or staff member who also has this kind of experience but is not an executive but rather part of programs design and implementing organizational goals based on beneficiaries' needs assessments/findings handed down by the board through new programs directions and initiatives).

__ Is the organization looking to implement a new major donors program or begin one, or similarly, begin or grow a grant writing program?  Is there large increment individual donor support needed or is the organization needing increased results in a major donations type of campaign?  If so, it helps to have at least one or two board members who are either wealthy themselves, or have colleagues, friends, or family who they can raise larger increment donations from (perhaps they donate to their friends' and loved ones' charitable interests and so they can reach out to them to support your organization - this board member's own charitable interest, to reciprocate).

__ Is the organization needing new blood to perhaps interject a new or higher level of public community enthusiasm or support for the nonprofit than it currently has?  For example, perhaps the organization is very successful and operates efficiently but it is not raising much new support or isn't getting its message out among the organization's younger community members very well.  Perhaps there is a board member who can be recruited that can improve this, especially, for example if the organization has clients (and if the potential board member wishes to make their experience public) and one of the people who received tremendous support wishes to become a board member and wishes to make their experience with the nonprofit known publicly.  There is no greater confidence builder for potential and current supporters.

__ Is there a lack of diversity among your nonprofit's leadership?  A board that reflects its community is not only representative of its community members, but it reaches all of its community members easier.

__ Is the organization going to implement a brand new charitable event fundraiser that would be most effective at raising support if a community member affiliated with a specific industry headed up that event's committee?  For instance, I worked for a nonprofit that held an annual golf tournament that was incredibly successful (and grew revenue each year) because the organization focused on a single industry when holding it.  The chair was a very well connected and well respected local contractor.  All of the sponsors, participants, and committee members were local professional contractors, engineers, insurance agents, construction managers, etc. and their executives and firms.  This person, by virtue of being a likely fit for this specific fundraising event's chair, need not be a board member in order to be an event committee's chair (depending on your organization's bylaws) but it doesn't hurt for them to serve (in addition to being the committee chair) on the board if this event is the organization's largest event or if the event (or the participants invited to the event) work in a professional field related to the organization's mission.

__ A nonprofit can recruit for any and each of its organization's high level (operations, policy, goal setting, etc.) goals or if needed, improvements.  For this reason, it helps if a nonprofit conduct a true needs study or organization operations needs inventory before building a new board or filling more than say two open board positions.  It would be worth the effort for the organization, efficiency, and its beneficiaries.

A nonprofit, after determining what kinds of experience, connections, or knowledge a strong prospective new board member should have can then plan a board recruitment process.  A process may be outlined the organization's bylaws or a part of operations and procedure policy.

Each nonprofit's bylaws must be followed.  What I outline, next, here is simply a typical board member recruitment process.  This is by no mean necessarily what your organization's bylaws dictate must happen, though.  By law your nonprofit must follow its current bylaws.  So, always follow your nonprofit's bylaws before any process or procedure that in any way is different from them.

The strongest potential board members can be best recruited from the organization's own community (the community it serves).  Ads can be placed online and in the press but if these are used be aware that you may receive no response or too many unqualified responses if you leave it at this.  It is better to plan a proactive board recruitment campaign that includes identifying among the organization's public potential board members who the organization would love to have in its executive leader ranks.  Who in the community would be ideal?  Dream big, here, and be confident.  Major executives, the wealthy, and extremely well connected people often wish to get involved in their community and make a positive difference.  Don't decide for someone they wouldn't be interested.  Identify those among the dream recruits who have demonstrated or indicated an interest in your organization and its cause or issue.  Who, among these people, demonstrate a commitment to what they get involved in and are team players?

Next, of this list, who already affiliated with your nonprofit (in any positive way) from clients, to volunteers, to donors, to staff, to consultants, to board members?  Who affiliated knows these people or knows someone who knows them?  If no one does, don't take the potential dream team members off the list.  For each, figure out an ideal, comfortable, professional way to meet with each and all potential recruits.

Create teams of one or two current board members (or a board member and the executive director if the board feels that works, as well) and take this prospective board member out for coffee or to dinner.  Do not pressure or sell them on anything or the organization.  Remember, too, everyone has the right to say "no", but often even those who turn down an executive roll become larger increment donors (by having learned more about the nonprofit and its successes).  Instead of going in with a hard sell or pressure, provide a compelling (accurate and truthful) picture of the organization.

Simply be ready to share with the potential board member: the need the organization meets in the community, who or what it serves and why, what its recent programmatic successes have been, its current program goals, and bring: a current board member job description, the organization's current financials, most recent annual report, current fundraising or development plan, and current organizational and program brochures (and anything else the board feels would help the prospective board member easily/quickly learn about the organization, its potential, its successes, and its operations).  Take these (in a nice packet, preferably) to each potential recruit.  Do not overwhelm them or take too much of their time.  Again, do not pressure them.  Simply allow the organization and its potential to shine.  It WILL stand on its own merits if these are what are used to make the case demonstrating why the nonprofit is such a worthwhile, effective, and well regarded organization.  A well run organization that is successful at its mission and is reputable would be attractive (from the smallest nonprofit to the largest well known ones) to anyone no matter if they're the executive at a Fortune 500 company or not wealthy or connected but rather a local community member who wishes to make a difference.  Respectfully, professionally, and reasonably research potential candidates in the local press.  Pull one or two relevant facts about each possible candidate together that maybe indicates their interest in your nonprofit or the cause it serves or their interest in volunteerism, etc.  If, through research, the team that meets with the prospective board member is able to, tie that potential board member's personal interests in the organization or the cause into the discussion.  Ask what they know of your organization, if they have any personal experience with it, and what their interests and views are about the cause and the organization itself.  Answer their questions.  Leave them with the materials to review, and give them time after the meeting to review them and consider the opportunity and what is involved in being an effective board member for themselves.  Agree with them how long that might be (it shouldn't be more than two weeks for most people) and then get back to them.

The next step, among those potential board members who are seriously considering the opportunity would be for them to perhaps visit the office or a site where the organization provides programs.  If it's ethical to and alright with a client, for example, allow them to meet with a current client one on one.  Allow them to review the organization's bylaws, what the board training packet looks like, a current programs and fundraising events calendar, and the current board members roster.  Allow them to ask questions and gather what information or insight they wish.  Again, set a date (hopefully sooner than longer) to again get back to them and see if they still remain interested and then schedule interviews with the board (and, if your bylaws require it, perhaps too the executive director) with each potential board member.  Conduct interviews and be sure to let each potential board member know, during them, when they can expect to hear back about what the board decided whether they're being offered the board position or not.

The board can, after all of the interviews are completed, convene, compare notes, consider what the goals are in acquiring new board members in the best interest of the nonprofit and its beneficiaries, discuss each possible new board member, and vote on who should be offered the positions.  Everyone who was interviewed should get a personally signed thank you letter for taking the time.  Candidates selected by the board should be offered the position(s).

After new board members accept the offer, they must be trained.  To learn about this process please read After Recruiting Board Members Help Them Become Effective Quickly .

* [What should not be a norm, though, is a high rate of attrition on your board (or among your staff or volunteers).  If this is occurring, there is likely a problem within the organization's operations, culture, and perhaps even its current leaders and their individual practices.  A nonprofit must acknowledge a high rate of attrition if this is happening and investigate (objectively, honestly, and extensively) to determine the causes and these issues must be fixed.  Otherwise, the organization is getting in its own way of success.  A nonprofit with problems at the helm is not effective, focuses on its mission, efficient, or as productive as it could be.  What's more, an organization with a questionable reputation leaves a question in the minds of all kinds of potential new or current supporters - everyone from volunteers, to donors, to community partner organizations, to potential hires and board recruits.  A systemic issue should be acknowledged, confronted professionally and ethically, researched and understood fully, and then rectified or the organization has allowed a wobble to begin that will ultimately grow eventually spinning the organization out of control.  What a shame for its beneficiaries.]

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