There’s an old adage “It’s not about filling seats or positions—it’s about getting the right people on the bus.” This is certainly true of board recruitment which, I believe, is an important function of boards.
I often hear from nonprofit executives and board leaders alike, who say they are struggling to find good board members and need help with so many things. You are not alone, I say. According to BoardSource, 35 percent of executives and 52 percent of board chairs report it is difficult or very difficult to find board members.
Focusing on board recruitment may seem less important in an era when nonprofits are struggling against labor and staffing shortages. However, the same strategic lens that applies to staff recruitment applies to board recruitment.
Start with an assessment about what you need:
- What skills or expertise are we missing on the board?
- What perspectives might we be missing?
- How can we recruit young people to be involved? (Allowing for “electronic” meetings is key to getting younger persons and/or people who travel or live a distance from your meeting location engaged and serving on your board).
- Would a candidate be willing to promote our organization to their personal and professional networks?
Board recruitment is not just the role of the executive director or of the governance committee. Nor is it seasonal—prior to the election of officers is when we typically go into recruitment mode. This is the wrong time for both board and officer recruitment.
All board members have the opportunity and responsibility to be ambassadors for your organization throughout the year—which includes recruitment. Invite others to join you when volunteering, or when you come in for a tour, or attend an event, to learn more about your nonprofit’s mission and community impact. Introducing others to committee assignments is a great way for both the new volunteer and prospective board member to learn more, meet others, and see if the work style and culture works for them. You can really see the heart and culture of the organization when you are inviting others to visit. A first-time welcoming experience is critical if you want others to actively participate in the organization.
Once these things have taken place, you are now able to tell the governance committee that you have a friend or colleague who is potentially interested in taking on a larger role—maybe even serving on the board. It’s then up to a governance committee member to have a candid and heartfelt conversation about what you are needing on the board as well as sharing the board description and talking about financially contributing to the organization. They need to solidify board interest and then bring the candidate forward.
Faster is not always easier or better. Getting the right people on the board is one of the key ingredients to creating a culture of board engagement, community ownership, and a successful mission-driven organization.