Last month we wrote about taking your Board from a “Founding Board” to a “Funding Board” and we highlighted a tool to evaluate your board composition. So what if you find major gaps in experience and skills on your Board? How to you begin the long task of recruiting new Board members?
At Starfish Impact, we recommend planning for a 12-18 month process to rebuild a whole Board, and a 6 month process to find a few Board members. We approach it like an executive recruiting process, with a lot of work up front in defining the role and the keys to success (and yes, even writing job descriptions) before ever reaching out to a potential candidate.
Here are five mistakes to avoid when recruiting new Board members:
- Unfocused asks. We’ve seen a few Boards jump right into recruiting new members without taking the time to think about adding members in a strategic way. We recommend starting with an evaluation process to determine what background, skills, and diversity you want to add to your Board. Use a tool like this one to start.
- No clear objectives. How do you know if a Board member is doing a good job? How do you know what type of background, skills, and connections you need from a potential Board member? Too often organizations don’t know, because they were never clear on the roles and responsibilities. We recommend starting with a job description on which all Board members can agree. From that job description create a matrix by which you can evaluate candidates in their interviews.
- Not enough outreach. Research shows that sticking with existing networks contributes to a lack of diversity on non-profit Boards. Your goal should be to have multiple viable candidates to add to your Board, so post that job description everywhere and ask Board members to distribute the job description to their networks. But don’t stop there: utilize job boards, professional networks, your supporter network, partner organizations, and experts to help distribute the job description.
- Not Vetting. It can be time intensive to talk to interested candidates so it’s tempting just to bring everyone in for an interview, but it is well worth the investment to build a robust vetting process. We recommend three steps: phone interviews; in-person interview; and a final round interview. By conducting introductory phone interviews, you can get a good sense of someone’s motivation for wanting to be on the Board as well as answer any questions they might have. It gives you and the candidate a chance to see if there is a potential fit. If there is, you can move then to the next round to interviews with a Board committee. Finally the last round gives you a chance to make an offer in person and let them ask any questions.
- Not selling it. You want your new Board members to be excited about the opportunity and arrive ready to get to work. So in addition to vetting your potential Board members, you also have to “sell” them on being part of the board. Every step of the recruiting process should communicate your passion for the organization and your exciting future plans. That way, when you extend an offer to a candidate, they are ready to say yes.
Tell us in the comments about best practices you have for recruiting board members.