Successful Board Member Recruitment – It Matters Who Asks

Board recruitment is a board responsibility. One more time. Board recruitment is a board responsibility. Yet too often the recruitment duties fall to the executive director (E.D.) or CEO. They shouldn’t. While the E.D. may be an ideal member of the recruitment team—joining a board member in making the ask—the E.D. should not take the lead or recruit alone. The board members you really want on your board will expect a board member (ideally one who is a peer) to ask them.

Let’s assume your nominating committee has gone through the list of potential candidates, considered carefully which ones best meet your current needs, and then placed them in order of priority (“we’ll ask her first, and if she turns us down we’ll ask him next”). It is now time to make the ask.

To determine who will make the ask, rather than all eyes turning to the E.D. in hopes that he or she will take it from here, the questions posed to board members should be:

“Which of us is the right person to ask this board candidate to join our board?”

Being the “right one” usually means that the board member has a relationship of some kind with the candidate or has an appropriate connection that will be helpful in getting the appointment. It’s possible that you’ll have more than one person speak-up and say, “I know Bill,” so be prepared to have a follow-up conversation to assess the depth of the relationship and determine who might be the very best person to make the ask.

If you don’t have the “right” relationship on the board, and the person you are hoping to recruit does not have a real connection to your organization, you can try a “cold call” and hope for the best, but it probably makes sense to consider, instead, how you might set the stage for a future ask (maybe 12-18 months from now). Don’t just hope that this will happen, however. Invest time in talking through the steps you might take to build a relationship with this individual and who should be involved in doing it.

Would you join a board without having a prior relationship with it or a member of its board? Probably not. As you look to recruit new board members, make sure you’ve built a relationship and then get the “right” person—the right board member—to make the ask.

For more guidance about effective board member recruitment, look at other Starboard Blog postings on our website:, or get in touch using the contact form on our site. We stand ready to help you!