September 28, 2021

Recruiting for a Board of Directors: What You Need to Know

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The individuals you choose to serve on your board directors will be responsible for providing strategic guidance and making high-level decisions that will alter the course of your organization. Because of their importance, you need to approach recruiting them with the utmost care.

Here’s how you can execute an effective recruitment process for your board of directors:

1. Determine Existing Gaps

Before you can determine who your ideal board member is, you need to evaluate your current board and define any existing gaps. This allows you to identify the qualities you should prioritize in your search. A few things to consider include:

  • How many members you want/need to add
  • The skill sets of current board members
  • The skills you’d like your board to have that are not currently represented
  • The tasks your existing board members don’t enjoy or avoid doing
  • Any constituents’ perspectives that may be underrepresented on your board

The executive director or board chair might assess the board for these gaps based on their direct experience, but you can also conduct an internal survey asking your board members to share their perceptions of what’s missing. Once you have a clearer picture of what would be essential for your organization’s growth, you can create a rubric that tracks all the skills you currently need and the ones you might need down the line.

For instance, perhaps you’re missing the necessary financial experience to interpret the organization’s budgetary needs. You could search for someone who has a background in accounting or financial advising. Let’s say your current members haven’t been proactive about promoting your organization’s work online. You’ll know to look for someone with a background in digital marketing who can ramp up your promotional efforts.

Identifying exactly what you need early on will allow you to target your search and narrow down your options when it’s time.

2. Develop a Job Description

Your job description should highlight the types of personalities and desirable skills your ideal candidate needs, based on your prior research. Specificity and clarity are key. You want to provide the must-know information without overwhelming prospects. Here are some essential sections to include in your job description:

  • Personal qualities (not skills) you’d like to see in a candidate. These will usually reflect your organization’s broader culture and mission. For instance, someone who has a strong affinity for animals will naturally fit in at an animal rescue organization.
  • Preferred skills and experience. For example, you may be looking for someone from a corporate background who would have the skills and connections to help your organization secure sponsorships from large companies.
  • Key duties and responsibilities. Give candidates a picture of what this position looks like in practice so they can be sure they’re both willing and able to do it.
  • Details regarding commitment levels. This includes things like the frequency of meetings and term duration.
  • Perks of working with the organization. Benefits might include a positive work environment or networking opportunities. Make your organization appealing!

Before finalizing your job description, have others review it to make sure it communicates everything you want candidates to know.

3. Publicize the Opportunity

You’ve written an excellent job description that will excite potential board candidates. The next step is to get it seen.

At one time, boards had to rely on their immediate networks to find new members. While this approach is still a great way to build a board, it can also limit the skills and experience your board has. Luckily, remote work has changed the hiring landscape, opening up more opportunities to connect with candidates who have a wider range of perspectives and backgrounds.

Many standard recruitment strategies, like sharing open roles to LinkedIn, apply to searching for board members. However, you’ll also want to experiment with board-specific tactics. Here are a handful of ways to cast your net far and wide:

  • Post the opportunity on your organization’s website. This should be the first step. Make it clear to anyone who visits your site that you’re looking to expand your board. Post the opening directly on your opportunities page and anywhere else you typically highlight open positions.
  • Ask current board members for referrals. This is a fantastic way to find individuals who share current members’ passion for the cause. When someone you trust refers an individual to your organization, they can vouch for their skills based on firsthand experience.
  • Take advantage of newsletters. Promoting the opening in your own newsletter is a fantastic way to connect with people already in your network, but it’d be even more beneficial if you could get other organizations to feature your open board seat in their newsletters, too.
  • Check with local agencies and organizations. See if they have any upcoming networking events, open houses, volunteering or job fairs, or other opportunities to get your open role in front of more people.

Proactively promoting your open board position is crucial to connecting with the perfect candidate.

4. Screen and Select Qualified Prospects

As the applications start rolling in, your nominating committee should create profiles for each candidate. Include their resumes, relevant information from their application or cover letter, past experiences, and what they hope to achieve if selected to serve.

When you conduct interviews, make sure to prepare questions that will help you fill any knowledge gaps you’re noticing in these candidate profiles. Really spend time getting to know each applicant to make sure they can fulfill the commitment if selected. Some particularly important topics to cover include:

  • Specific goals the candidate expects to achieve during their term
  • What committees they’d be interested in joining
  • The time they’d be willing to commit outside of regular meetings

Because your next board member will play such an important role in shaping your organization, it’s a good idea to do a background check as well. That might include reaching out to employers they’ve worked for or organizations they’ve volunteered with.

5. Onboard Your Board Member

When you’ve selected your new board member, get them up and running with an official onboarding process. Just as you would spend time training a new staff member, it’s crucial to give new board members everything they need to get started effectively.

An organized onboarding process is an integral part of any board succession plan. Here are a few key components you’ll want to include in your onboarding process to give new board members the best shot at succeeding:

  • Familiarize them with the organization’s culture and work
  • Outline all key responsibilities and expectations
  • Review industry-wide fiduciary duties for board members, including the duty of care, loyalty, and obedience
  • Teach them how to use your current board management system, including how to vote, find documents, and locate upcoming meeting details
  • Provide reference materials, like a board book complete with the organization’s history, a copy of its bylaws, a list of committees, and a calendar of upcoming meetings and events
  • Have them sign a board member agreement that asserts their commitment to the organization and that they understand their responsibilities

Ultimately, recruiting a board member is a process you want to take your time with. Your board members will greatly impact your organization, so it’s imperative you get it right.

As a final tip, keep in mind the benefit that diversity can bring to your organization. While you may be looking for someone from a specific background, cultivating a wide array of experiences and perspectives will only enrich the work you do and help you stay ahead of the curve.

Jeb Banner is CEO and cofounder of Boardable.

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Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
https://boardable.com/