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mission Matters

Responsibility #7: Recruiting and Training New Board members and Measuring Performance

July 11, 2013

How to effectively recruit board members with skills, contacts and expertise that help your organization achieve its goals.

The not-for-profit Board is similar to any important department in a modern corporation. It plays a critical role in the success of the organization and its successful operation does not happen by luck or by accident. It is managed to function successfully.

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 the skills, contacts and expertise that your Board needs to advance the organization and how effectively you recruit people with these skills, contacts and expertise to Board membership.

This is one area of Board responsibility that falls almost entirely upon the Board with little or no assistance from management. Yes, you can use management to help initially identify 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.

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. Ideally, you should have been maintaining an up-to-date list of potential board candidates including detailed information about each one so that when an opening appears on your Board, you have a qualified list of partially vetted candidates to start your search.

Once you have identified a potential new board member, one of the first steps is to have the Board chair and CEO 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. 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 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.

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 member right away in the meeting and, at the end of the meeting, ask the potential new member if they have any questions. 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.

Once you have elected the new Board member don’t forget the all important orientation. Although the individual has received much 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.

It is very difficult to think about and decide what information should be included in a new board member orientation after the invitation has been extended to join. I suggest that a board member be tasked with maintaining and continually updating the New Board Member Orientation Program. As events and issues arise and are settled, one can modify the program as necessary and the entire board should be charged with suggesting items for the New Board Member Orientation Program. In this way, an up-to-date orientation program is ready for implementation at all times containing all of the most important information for the new board member.

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.

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.

Read more on not-for-profit boards:
Board Development Series

As one of the largest CPA firms in Boston, KLR is unique because they service over 220 not-for-profit organizations with compliance and consulting services. We have extensive experience helping Nonprofit organizations regarding boards, and board responsibilities, charitable contributions, taxes and 990 filing requirements. The KLR Nonprofit team is active in our local community and not-for-profit organizations, visit our Facebook page to see photos from our latest volunteer event.

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