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Board Member Responsibility #7: Recruiting and Training New Board Members and Measuring Performance

April 14, 2021

Part seven of our Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards series takes a closer look at how boards should properly recruit and train new board members.

*Editor's Note: This blog has been updated as of April 14, 2021 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

In part 7 of our board responsibility blog series, we’re taking a close look at recruiting and training new board members, an essential part of any successful organization. After all, your governing board is only as effective as its members. As such, who is on your board is important. Personal attributes, such as commitment to the organization, professional skills, philanthropic abilities, and experience are all contributing factors that should be analyzed when recruiting new members. Let’s see what else is important when selecting your board members.

The importance of board recruiting

A fully functioning Board is essential to helping the organization achieve its goals and mission. It is also a legal requirement. How effectively your Board fulfills these responsibilities depends on the effort you put into identifying what your Board needs to advance the organization and how effectively you recruit people to fill the gaps on the Board.

Heavy lifting falls on the board

This is one area of Board responsibility that falls almost entirely upon the Board with little or no assistance from management. Management is available to assist with identifying potential candidates, but all of the heavy lifting in the board recruitment process is going to, and should, fall upon the shoulders of the current Board.

What is the first step in the board recruitment process?

The first step in the board recruitment process is to identify the prerequisites for candidates. The prerequisites are the experience, skills, influence, demographics, etc., that define a balanced board composition.

Once you have identified a potential new board member, one of the first steps is to have the Board chair and executive director meet with that candidate. You should provide the candidate with an overview of the organization and relevant organizational materials describing the organization’s products or services, along with a job description and a board member application form.

Process is a two way street!

The prospective new member should hear about how the organization trains new members and be provided with names of several board members that the candidate might want to contact with any questions. Remember, the candidate is evaluating whether they want to join your board as much as you are evaluating whether to offer them a position on the Board. This process is very much a two-way street.

Make sure the new member is aware of their expectations

In addition, it is important to ensure that the potential new board member is aware of their expectations. For example, the amount they may be required to contribute on an annual basis, their involvement in sub-committees, their recruitment requirements, etc.

Next step- board meeting

Next, invite the prospective new member to a board meeting. Notify current board members that a potential new member will be attending. Consider name tags to help the potential new member be acquainted with board members. Introduce the potential board member at the beginning of the meeting. Then at the end of the meeting, ask the potential new member if they have any questions, then thank them for coming.

Shortly after the meeting, call the candidate to hear if they want to apply for joining the board or not. If so, solicit their completed board member application and provide all applications to the board for their review and election.

Don’t forget about new member orientation

Once you have elected the new Board member don’t forget their orientation. It is recommended that it be a two-part orientation process, rather than trying to get all of the information covered in one meeting. The first part should be focused on the responsibilities of board service, responsibilities, culture and style of operating. Discuss an overview of the bylaws, board members, relations, staff and key constituencies. Then the second part should be focused more on the organization. The mission, vision, history, major achievements, current priorities and needs, staff organization, facilities, finances, programs, services, etc. Although the individual has received most of this information during the recruiting and evaluation process, there is likely still a lot of information that is needed to bring this new member up to speed with current Board members.

What is the impact on board performance?

Recruiting and training new board members is the Board’s responsibility and the quality of the individual board member is directly proportional to the performance of the Board as a whole. Therefore, we included within this area of the Board’s responsibilities the requirement for the Board to undertake a periodic formal performance assessment. This assessment is designed to help the Board objectively answer the question of how well the Board is meeting its responsibilities. Such an assessment should be undertaken every 3 to 5 years. Sometimes a Board is not meeting its responsibilities even though it is comprised of highly skilled, experienced individuals. If that is the case, it must be addressed and remedied. In other situations, there may be issues with individual Board members.

Assessing performance of individual board members necessary too?

Therefore, in addition to assessing the performance of the Board as a whole, a process of assessing performance of individual Board members is also appropriate. This is especially important when members are eligible for reelection or reappointment. The idea that a Board member may not be asked to continue on a Board should not be a foreign concept. Board membership is an important job and failure to discharge the responsibilities of this job must bear the risk of job termination. The fact that this is a non-compensated job does not change this very important concept.

Lastly, an important aspect of board membership are term limits. A growing number of organizations limit the number of consecutive terms board members can serve. Regular turnover among board members avoids stagnation, offers the opportunity to expand the board’s network, and provides a respectful an efficient method for removing unproductive members. The main goal is to ensure reasonable turnover in board membership while maintaining adequate continuity with board members. Term limits also encourage more opportunity for leadership development within the board’s membership.

It is also common for board chairs to have a more flexible term in office, that is he or she neither serve too little or too long. It is recommended that the provision in the bylaws for consideration be the following: “The board chair service for renewable one-year terms. He or she shall ordinarily serve for at least two, but not more than five, consecutive years.”

Whether or not your organization has term limits, it is important that the board assess the performance of both the board, as well as individual board members periodically.

Read our entire blog series here:

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