While it is your job as board chair to make sure that the right person is in charge of your board recruitment efforts and that there is a strong committee in place to support him or her, it would be a mistake to let the rest of the board off the hook when it comes to nominating and recruiting board members. It is a core responsibility of board members to assist with board recruitment, yet too many organizations don’t engage the full board in this important work, often leaving board members underutilized and feeling like board recruitment is some kind of secret process undertaken by a select few. It shouldn’t be.
Make sure that your board knows how the recruitment process works, who chairs it (and who is on the committee), and what you expect them to do in order to help. Rather than having the chair of this effort come to the board with a plea for help, use your position as board chair to remind them of their responsibility and to engage them in the process.
There are a few obvious points at which it makes sense to engage the board:
• Engage them in the process of determining what kinds of experience, skills and abilities you are seeking. They might similarly be involved in defining expectations for new board members and helping to shape the orientation.
• Once the committee is in place, make sure the board receives a timeline that outlines the process and notes where and when the board’s involvement and input will be sought.
• The board should be asked to generate the names of potential board candidates (and some basic info about each). The more specific you are about the candidates you are seeking, the more likely you are to get what you need (a female, with strong finance experience, who lives in Piscataquis County, for example).
While it is important that board members understand the process for nomination and recruitment and how they can help, it is just as important that they also appreciate what not to do. In particular, board members need to understand that they are being asked to generate names for the committee to consider, but they should not have an initial conversation with potential board members. If a board member has a premature conversation with a prospective board member, it is not difficult to imagine how embarrassing it will be for all involved if the prospective board member is not selected by the committee as a nominee. So tell board members, “We need you to generate names for us, but please do not have a conversation with the potential nominees to see if they are interested. We don’t want you to create expectations that we might not be able to meet.”
Ideally the nominating committee will end-up with many good suggestions and more candidates than there are openings—that is a good thing! It will then be the responsibility of the committee to determine who best fits the criteria that was set at the start of the recruitment process. This might result in a “top ten” list of candidates (all of whom appear to be suitable potential board members) that can be shared with the full board in a confidential manner. Before your committee members recruit anyone, it makes sense to make sure that board members are comfortable with your potential candidates. You don’t want any surprises later in the process.
As board chair, you have a responsibility to put the right people in charge of this process, but you also have a duty to engage the rest of the board in this important work. Suggesting the names of potential board members should be an easy thing for every board member to do, and encouraging your board to put forward names is one very direct way in which you can support the chair of your recruitment effort.
Ultimately, your goal should be to make sure the committee has more candidates, and more really good candidates, than you have space for on your board. That is exactly the kind of dilemma every board would like to face!
For additional information, please contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407, or send him an e-mail message at [email protected].