If your recruitment process has reached the point where you are ready to sit down with your prospective board candidate and make the ask, give some consideration to the following tips for managing a successful meeting:
- Be clear on what you want to cover and who will do what – This should not be an overly scripted or formal affair, so don’t over-prepare, but do have an outline in mind for how you want to go through the materials. If you are approaching this as a team, talk in advance about who will do what. Ideally it will be a board member who makes the ask.
- Make this a pleasurable and informative conversation – This is a great opportunity to get to know more about the person you are recruiting and for him or her to build a new relationship with you. The early part of the conversation should have you asking questions and being a good listener. As a nice segue into the ask, it is great to have the volunteer member of your recruitment team talk a bit about why he or she got involved with the organization, what the experience has been like, and why the mission is so important.
- Don’t try to cover every detail (bring materials and leave a packet) – You should come prepared with a packet of materials to leave behind. It may be that you never open the packet and only refer to it to let your prospective board member know you came prepared. More important than a review of the materials is the conversation about what the organization has accomplished recently, where it is heading, and why the skills and experience he or she has are what you are seeking.
- Make the ask – Remember the board will still have to vote on any board candidates, so take care not to discount that process. Consider language like this: “For all the reasons we have just described, we are hoping you might allow us to put your name forward for election to our board.” You can then briefly describe the process as they consider their response (or catch their breath). You want to signal that careful thought has gone into this request and that there is a process in place that has to be followed.
- Give them time, but not too much time – This is one of those occasions when it makes sense to give your prospective board candidate time to think it over. You want this to be a well-considered decision, and you don’t want a rushed “yes” or “no.” Consider language like this: “We know you will want to give this some thought and consider your other commitments, so we have prepared a packet of materials for you. Would it be reasonable if I gave you a call sometime next week to see if you have additional questions for us or if you have reached a decision?”
- Be ok with a “no” (and prepared for a second request) – Sometimes you’ll get a “no” response right away. Be ready to be gracious and to keep the door open for the future. You might also prepare for this in advance and consider what your follow-up request might be. People are much more likely to say “yes” to a second request that sounds easier than the first. So, perhaps: “We understand you can’t commit to serving on the board now, but could we ask you to help us with…” It is not as pushy as it sounds, and you may get him or her involved at a different level.
- Follow-up, no matter what – Whether you get a “yes” or a “no” or a “let me think about it,” it makes tremendous sense to follow-up with a “thank you for spending time with us,” or a “I’ll look forward to talking with you next week.”
Approach this as an opportunity to establish or deepen a relationship, and you’ll enjoy the conversation and leave the prospective board member knowing much more about your organization. Be careful not to be too desperate. The line, “It really doesn’t take any time at all to serve on the board,” (or other attempts to downplay the work involved) does a disservice to your organization. You want the person you are recruiting to know what he or she is getting into and come to the board with eyes wide open.
There are many more tips about recruitment in the blog section of our website: www.starboardleadership.com. If you would like additional assistance with board recruitment or other governance advice, please get in touch using the contact form on our site. We are happy to help!