Monday, February 16, 2009

A Few Basics for Board Recruitment


Like many of you, I'm responsible for working with a board of directors to identify and recruit candidates to board service.  Armed with a dynamic strategic plan, a strong board already in place, and a track record of activity, recruitment to this particular board has never been difficult.  (Tip: you must have these three elements (at least) in place to attract bright, thoughtful people who want to be engaged with your organization.)

Identification of candidates is proving to be especially challenging, though, and it's due largely to some very straightforward discussions the nominating committee is having about what our board needs to look like if it is to support our vision, mission and plan.  We typically recruit for gender, racial/ethnic, discipline and geographic diversity.  We're now also talking about folding additional criteria into the mix to create a balance of emerging-mid-career-veteran voices, specific expertise (finance, marketing, etc.), and leadership attributes.

That sent me to the Web to search for samples of board development matrices.  The matrix is a great starting point for determining who a board already has sitting around its table.  And it's an indispensable tool for a nominating committee to use to identify the additional talent a board needs.  
The criteria from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence's matrix includes: Community Connections - corporate, social, philanthropic, media, professional, etc.,; Qualities - leadership, willing to work, commitment to mission; Style - collegial, visionary, practical; Expertise - accounting, law, technology, etc. 

Another matrix focuses on "competencies" of current board members, i.e., conversant with public policy issues affecting members; involvement and connections with organizations related to mission; knowledge of organization goals and activities; demonstrated leadership role within organizations or in other professional organizations, etc.

A third matrix divides criteria into three major sections -- knowledge, skills, personal characteristics -- each of which includes 7-10 specific attributes, such as "can work to build consensus", "promotes openness and honesty", "knows the organization's current financial position".

That's just three examples.  Head spinning yet?

Here's the take-away:  The person filling a board seat should fill more than a demographic ideal. Competencies and attributes are just as critical to successful board performance.  Many of us learn the hard way that subject matter competencies without group decision-making skills can be just as detrimental to an organization as a board that does not reflect the constituency/community served.

Identifying board candidates based solely on demographic criteria is far easier than identifying board candidates based on their abilities to care about an organization enough to work in concert with others.  Yet, it's necessary to organizational health, don't you think?

And to be successful, a nominating committee needs time to learn about its potential candidates, to assess their attributes, to see if there is a match.  This requires conversation on several levels and it may well require employing a variety of opportunities to engage them in the work of the organization -- attending a board meeting, for instance.  This period of assessment is also a time of cultivation.  It requires a strategy and time to do well.

So, here's where I am with my own nominating committee work:   recasting the board matrix to incorporate competencies, skills and demographics; taking the revised matrix to the full board for discussion and assistance with identification of potential candidates; creating a strategy for cultivation and recruitment; and implementing it through the remainder of this year.  (Tip:  if the nominating committee takes all these steps, the strategy may be good for several years.)

Photo: egg line up by mixtasy

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