Monday, June 21, 2010

Building a Board Recruitment Program

IF YOU WERE BUILDING A BOARD RECRUITMENT program from scratch, what would you make of it?  I think I'd start with two pieces of information:  a board job description and a criteria list for the skills and attributes I need around that board table.
The job description would give me most all the information I'd need to approach a prospect to discuss board service.  I'd consider it my script for the conversation.  It would include all the expectations my organization would expect of a board member and it would include what the board member could expect from the organization.
The criteria list would be my road map to the people I'd be sharing that job description with.  As I've written about in other posts (here, here and here) it's knowing what I've got to work with and what I need that sets me up for my search of the who's.  Without this data, I could just ask any passing stranger if she or he had interest in joining my board.  I could just paper the neighborhood with that job description and it wouldn't mean a thing.
If I were building a board recruitment program from scratch, I'd also want to think about what surrounds those two pieces of information -- what supports and reinforces them.  They're two pieces of an overarching program that includes several activities ranging from prospect identification to orientation to full engagement of new members into the work of the board.  Each of these activities requires a plan of attack and related materials.  I'd want to have that all thought out and in place.
For example, orientation is an important early opportunity to ground a new board member in the vision, mission and values of the organization.  It requires face-to-face discussion that's best supported with a facilities tour, staff meet-up, and reference manual of all key documents (including organizational documents, policies, financials, strategic plans, contact lists, and program info).
Full engagement of new board members requires that they receive an assignment right away and perhaps some mentoring from veteran board members.
So, here's your assignment:  take a look at your current board recruitment program.  If you were to rebuild it or build one from scratch, where would you start?

Photo: Tinker Toys from M & J: Character Hunters 

11 comments:

alisonrapping said...

Would create interview criteria to ask the deep questions, "Why are you passionate about this organization?" "How do you see our culture fitting in with your values?" "Do you have a desire to govern, why is the Board of Directors position the most effective fit for you with our organization?" "What is the legacy you would want to leave?"

Debra said...

Nice, Alison. Another way to approach that is to ask, "How does your passion for the work of this organization connect to what drives you personally?" One of the greatest outcomes of my research was hearing how every member of the board I studied could articulate how his/her commitment to the organization's mission fed a personal motivation (moral/spiritual, civic, and social/political were broad categories for this group's responses).

Nancy said...

A good starting question for me is always, "Where is this organization going in the future and who needs to be at the table for that to happen?"

The recruitment list and job description flow from that question. I love Alison's interview questions as a way to establish fit (on both sides) and passion for the vision and mission of the organization.

Debra said...

I also would ask, of experienced board members, something along the lines of "What do you consider to be one of the greater rewards of governance?" and "What's the biggest governance challenge you've encountered so far?" That might yield some insights into their understanding (and experienced rewards and challenges) of what governance really involves and their biases about what that should be. You *may* decide that, wow, this really would be a terrible fit. More likely, you'll develop a better sense of whether the fit to your culture can be a good one and where some focused learning opportunities might be in the orientation process.

I also would want to help them think about those unrecognized talents, beyond the lines-on-a-resume/profession stuff we naturally seek. Questions that help them identify capacities, such as the ability to synthesize disparate ideas, encourage critical thinking, play devil's advocate, etc., would be valuable.

I'm in the process of developing a community roundtable on board recruitment strategies, so your timing for asking this question is perfect. Let me keep thinking and come back as new ideas to share arise.

Debra said...

Preaching to the choir on this one, but it bears repeating in the context of your bigger question:

Never, ever, EVER discount the responsibilities (and the amount of work) that come with governance in discussing what you are seeking. Be up front, be detailed, about what they are expected to contribute. It's better to have them acknowledge it's more than they are able to take on before joining than it is to put them in a position of 'failure.'

Nancy said...

Your point about being honest up front is crucial. I've found boards often want to soften the requirements so as to not scare candidates off. That does not serve the organization or the candidate well.

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Hi, Alison, Debra and Nancy --

I'm so honored to have your brain trust right here commenting on my post!

I'm in complete agreement that a recruitment process must be rooted in open, honest and ongoing communication whether it be about the intentions of a prospect or the expectations of the institution. And the conversation needs to begin internally within the organization by asking and answering that question Nancy raised --"where are we going and who needs to be at the table to make it happen?"

I think, too, that the farther an organization extends its reach for board talent, the greater the need for clear, ongoing communication right from the start. It's another reason why board recruitment is an ongoing activity, not one relegated to a few weeks or months before an election.

Debra said...
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Debra said...
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Debra said...

Anne, your last sentence reminds me of another point that should be considered an essential part of the process - but usually isn't: making this an ongoing commitment. Going along with that probably is a realignment of the nominating committee, which leaps into action weeks to days ahead of a predictable (annual, usually) schedule, to more of a board development committee/process model, where all aspects of governance are regularly and deeply explored - and valued.

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Indeed. What this is all about is a paradigm shift for many organizations -- a shift that expands the scope of recruitment to include cultivation, orientation, and engagement AND embraces the understanding that group work requires attention, nurturing, assistance where necessary, and routine assessment.