Before asking someone to join your board, make sure you you’ve got your act together

When we ask someone to join a board, we are usually asking them to make a multi-year commitment, take on fiscal and legal responsibility for the organization, shoulder some level of risk, commit to ongoing financial support, put their reputation on the line, and make a serious and ongoing time commitment. Pretty heavy stuff, yet far too often recruitment is treated lightly or casually. Stories abound about board recruitment happening in the supermarket, at the tail end of a casual conversation, or as a “by the way, would you be willing…” kind of request.

While some board candidates may say “yes,” a casual ask can signal that the person asking has not given this serious thought, that the organization does not have its act together, or even that there is a level of desperation about board recruitment (as in, “we are asking anyone and everyone until we find someone to fill this seat”).

As we noted in an earlier blog (June 10, 2011), being able to answer the “Why me?” question is a good place to start in preparing to make the ask, but it is just a start. There is a great opportunity to engage the board in this work.

At your next board meeting, with the flip-chart in front of the room, ask your board members to tell you how they would respond if asked, “What will you expect of me as a board member?”

Lead them through a discussion about meeting attendance, committee service, giving, length of terms, and so on. Don’t stop until you’ve covered all the bases. You are likely to be surprised by the diversity of responses you get and the differing perceptions that board members may have about the expectations of board service. This is a wonderful activity to do with your board on an annual basis—the “excuse” for doing it is recruitment, but one of the real benefits is that board members have an opportunity to articulate what they expect of each other.

In a similar manner, you might then ask your board to talk about what materials or information they would want or expect before joining the board. Much of what is identified can be left behind with the candidate as part of a packet, and other information might be better shared during orientation, but listen carefully to what board members say would be important to them in making their decision, and you’ll end up with a great list and some important guidance. For some it all comes down to knowing when your meetings are scheduled. For others, they’ll want to see your last audit, a copy of the annual report, and a list of who else is on the board.

Savvy board recruits—those kinds of people who are sought after to serve on boards—will expect you to have your act together and be able to answer not the only the “Why me?” question, but also the “What will you expect of me?” question. Do your homework beforehand and your chances of successful recruitment will increase dramatically.