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Board Recruitment: Look for the What, Not the Who

BOARD RECRUITMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS.  Or it should be.  Now more than ever, our nonprofits need engaged, forward-thinking leadership.  Our nonprofits need board members who are willing to use a continual loop of strategy and feedback to define and shape mission, relevance and community connectedness.  To be content with board members who are ONLY interested in slices of an organization's mission is not enough.  Board members have to want to embrace the whole enchilada, because they understand that a nonprofit's impact is more than the sum of its parts.
Nominating or board development committees need to sharpen their recruitment skills to laser-like precision.  Recruitment no longer begins with the question, "who do we know?", but with "what skills or access do we need?"  If you don't know what you're looking for, you're liable to accept any who.  That worked decades ago when boards were merely extensions of wealthy social clubs.  There's no time for that nonsense anymore.
It's time to start making that list.  An organization's vision and mission statements, along with the strategic plan, are pretty much all the tools you'll need to develop a list of skills and attributes your organization needs around the board table.  Use your list to go shopping for prospects by working your networks (and the networks of others) to identify them.
This isn't easy work.  It's never-ending work, really.  But it's the life-force for your nonprofit.

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POLS 4710/5710 said…
If you don't know what you're looking for, you're liable to accept any who." That may be one of the most profound statements about the importance of recruitment that I've read in a very, very long time, Anne. As board members, and as consultants to boards, we must continually press for more reflection and more resulting clarity about what really is needed at the table - skills, access, perspectives, etc. - to govern fully and effectively. Thanks for the thought-provoking challenge for all of us.
Debra, I truly believe that if we only concentrate on the who, we run the risk of assembling boards that are far too homogeneous, which for many organizations can be(come) an Achilles heel. Focusing on the what first may help some boards diversify in ways they never thought possible. It's definitely worth trying.

You're right -- opening these conversations and pressing for reflection and clarity are important elements of what board members and consultants should always try to advance and support.

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