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Recruiting Entrepreneurial Leadership

AS MUCH AS NONPROFITS NEED FORWARD-THINKING, entrepreneurial staff leadership, they need it just as much in the board room.  Recruiting for it is not unlike recruiting for entrepreneurship in the CEO -- it requires definition and identification of some key attributes around which conversation and questions can be had.
My not-so-official definition of nonprofit entrepreneurship -- be it social or cultural -- is an organization's willingness to shift its perspectives to find opportunities and partnerships in unexpected places, reset old boundaries to expand audiences and, in doing so, use the strengths of its mission to diversify and/or grow income streams.  And woe be the entrepreneurial CEO who doesn't have a like-thinking board to support and advance her efforts.
Cultural and social entrepreneurs share some or all of the following attributes:  
  • They see and understand the relevancy of the work and the cultural/social value it provides
  • They can make value connections forward and backward -- in other words, they can apply previous lessons to the work of today and tomorrow (but they're more forward-thinkers than backward-lookers)
  • They are comfortable with change
  • They are mostly optimistic; open to new ideas and diverse perspectives and they're willing to figure out ways to apply them (in fact, they enjoy it)
  • They are comfortable with exploiting opportunities by taking calculated risks to increase cultural/social value
  • They have a heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created
  • They are careful listeners and work well in groups
How do you recruit board members for these attributes?  First, recognize that it may require several conversations to discover an individual's world view.  Here are three conversation starters:
  • Give them a problem:  how will they connect the dots between the organization and the world around it?  Do they balance forward-thinking with backward-looking?  Will they develop more than one approach?
  • Ask them about a problem they solved:  how many internal and external dots did they connect?  How far did it advance the program or the entire organization?  Was failure a part of the process?  Were new voices a part of the process?
  • Ask them if they consider themselves to be entrepreneurial!  Listen for key descriptors of attributes.
If your organization is serious about recruiting for attributes, it must be serious about taking the time to listen to prospective board candidates.  Consider all board recruitment as a journey of discovery, even if you believe you know your prospects well.  Just because an individual runs a great fundraiser or is recommended by a trusted source, doesn't mean they have the entrepreneurial attributes your organization is searching for now.
Image:  Entrepreneurship from Michael Lewkowitz via Flickr

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