Board Recruitment in 7 Steps

How is board recruitment going for your organization? Nonprofit boards sit at the top of many organizational charts, yet the recruitment of new board members ranges from strategic and intentional to scrambling to fill seats. Recruiting and onboarding new board members is an ongoing governance responsibility for board members of nonprofit organizations. Existing board members can identify and cultivate relationships with prospective board members to keep the composition of the board relevant to its current role and priorities.  

Recently, through our consulting work, our team has observed board recruitment approaches used by some nonprofits. Items we’ve noticed include: 

  • Some boards of directors don’t engage in board member recruitment on an ongoing basis, leaving it to occasional recruitment when existing terms for board members are expiring. 
  • Time is needed to identify who will play what role in the recruitment process and what tools and information are needed to carry out the process. 
  • Not all nonprofits have a defined recruitment process.  
  • Some organizations strive to recruit diverse board members without additional equity and inclusion work. 

If your board is at a place where it is about to design or revise its board recruitment process, here is a seven-step process that can guide your nonprofit’s board recruitment: 

  1. Prepare the team – To prepare for board member recruitment: identify the process you’ll undertake; gather the tools and information needed along the way; assign the roles board members and staff play in the process (including board committee(s)); and, add any missing items needed, such as a board member application. TIP: If you desire a more diverse board, ask your board to have a generative discussion about what it looks like to prepare themselves and adjust as they welcome diverse board members.  
  2. Review the role of the board – Boards of directors play different roles depending on the life stage of the organization or current priorities. Review the goals and life stage of the organization to help identify the types of skill sets, networks, expertise, and other contributions needed from your current and future board members. TIP: A change in the role of your board will require you to consider candidates who may differ considerably from your current board member profile; expect board culture changes as you make this shift in your board composition.  
  3. Assess composition and identify recruitment strategy – Use a tool such as a board profile matrix to determine the skills and attributes possessed by current board members and the desired skill sets and attributes in new board members. By identifying what qualities you want to fill or amplify on your board, such as a diverse audience characteristic, you inform who to recruit and what channels you use to reach the ideal prospective board candidate. TIP: Customize a board composition matrix so it contains the skills and attributes that best support your board in accomplishing its priorities and serving its role. 
  4. Identify and recruit board prospects – Board members, staff, and key advisors are a great source to identify and recruit prospective board members. The diversity of their networks can aid in creating a diverse candidate pool. Share with them the skill sets and attributes being sought and ask them to help identify community members who fit the desired board member profile. In step 1 above, you should determine who will make the invitation to the prospective board members. TIP: Start with people familiar with your organization and work outward toward individuals who aren’t familiar with you. The education period is shorter, and you can get to a yes/no in a shorter time frame. 
  5. Interview, cultivate, and evaluate prospective board members – After your team identifies prospective board members, you will want to assess how the candidates can contribute to the board composition in a way that helps you fulfill your board role and accomplish your priorities. During this phase, the people assigned to interview candidates are discerning how candidates might support the board’s role or support the organization in some other capacity. If a candidate is not a good choice for the board or timing is off, think of how you can sustain a relationship with them through a board committee role. TIP: Your interviewers should use formal interview questions and written criteria for board consideration to create a consistent process for candidates.  
  6. Nominate and elect new board members – Once assigned board and staff members (such as the nominating committee) interview and evaluate prospective board members, a slate of candidates can be forwarded to the board for review and election. Follow what you determined in step 1, and have the nomination come from the responsible board member(s), a committee of the board, or other agreed-upon individual(s). Board member candidate elections should happen at a meeting of your board of directors. TIP: Your process may include candidates attending a board meeting during their candidacy to see the board in action, including the meeting where the board votes on their candidacy.  
  7. Onboard and effectively engage new board members – Effective board recruitment does not end with a candidate election to the board. Boards must think about how to orient new board members around the organization’s current work and their role as board members in supporting the mission of the organization. Additionally, intentional efforts to engage new board members so they can contribute their expertise helps new board members feel that they’re contributing and engaged in the mission. TIP: Additional attention can be given to board members for whom this board role is their first board service because equitable board engagement and retention won’t occur if they can’t effectively engage in board conversations for the first few months of their service.  

As you’re revising or designing your board recruitment process, here are additional helpful resources from Propel Nonprofits:

Your board recruitment process may look similar to this or different; there are numerous permutations of this that could work for your organization. The takeaways: 1) design a process that helps you recruit the board members you need to accomplish your board priorities; 2) use this process on an ongoing basis so you become fluent with it and make adjustments so it works for you. 

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