Nonprofit Board Recruitment as Inspiration!

Kelly over at the Nonprofiteer had a great blog post today – a rallying cry to stop whining about board recruitment and just get out there and do it! (Ok, to be honest, Kelly always has a rallying cry to stop whining about this or that – she has no tolerance at all for BS and excuses – my kind of gal!)

Here is what Kelly said:

Board recruitment is nothing more than stating the case for an institution you love to people who will be prepared to do the same thing.


You all know that I wrote what I am often told is “the book” on Board Recruitment. What you may not know is that that book came out of frustration, because boards routinely recruit HORRIBLE board members.

And why does that happen? I think it occurs for at least two reasons.

First, as a sector, we tend to de-value boards. Ask any group of leaders in this sector, “What is stopping us from creating more significant change in our communities?” and “the problem with boards” will likely be high on that list.

From that assumption, governance models are, almost to the one, prescriptive – the lists of things boards must do, the lines they are not allowed to cross. And we assign to them the God-awful task of “accountability for the means” – the risk management issues of legal oversight, operational oversight.

If board work was an ice cream sundae, the flavor of the month would be Dull. The cherry on top would be “scary.”

So first, when boards are not governing via a system that encourages them to be the force for inspired leadership within an organization – leadership towards the thing they care about in the first place (the mission) – the results go beyond simply knowing their work is a combination of dull and scary.

The result is that THAT is what they are recruiting board members to!

The second reason boards recruit horrible board members stems from the first. If boards are assumed to be an organizational afterthought – a pain in the butt that is legally required but we would just as soon do without – then what difference does it make how we recruit or who we recruit?

And so boards routinely tell us their recruitment criteria is “warm blood and a pulse.” (Sadly, one look around their board table, and you see they are not kidding!!!)

And that leads to this reality:

Boards take more care in hiring the guy who clears trash out of the parking lot than they take care in “hiring” their board.

What if that doesn’t have to be the case? Let’s try this:

Sit back, close your eyes, and imagine your board is extraordinary. Imagine they are engaged. Effective. Energized. Imagine your board is your organization’s greatest asset – your greatest advocate for your mission.

Now let’s take a peek into what recruitment looks like when it is an inspired process, rather than a “No-One-Good-Will-Ever-Sit-On-Our-Board-So-Why-Bother” process.

What To Seek in a Board Member
Step 1) Get rid of the board recruitment matrix. I am not sure who thought it was a good idea to create that universal checklist of what every single board supposedly needs, but throw it away. Burn it. You’ll see in a moment that you do not need it – at all.

Step 2) Make a list of the qualities you want every board member to have. Passion for the mission is usually high on that list. Time to commit to doing the real work. Works and plays well with others. Etc. What are the characteristics you want every single board member to possess?

Step 3) Make a second list – qualities it would be nice if some folks had, but they don’t all need. Perhaps connections and money. Perhaps financial acumen. Perhaps experience in the field of the organization’s work. These are things not everyone needs to have, but it would be nice if some folks did. (This is where the universal matrix becomes “things specific to our board.”)

Step 4) Do NOT put “pro bono” anything on that second list. I won’t dwell on why not in this post, but you can link here for a long explanation of why not.

Step 5) Now make a third list. This is the list of qualities you NEVER want to see on your board. It might be ego, or someone who never shuts up. It might be “know-it-all.” It could be any of a number of qualities that make for REALLY BAD BOARD MEMBERS. Why list these? Because they are often the things we overlook when we are seeking “warm blood and a pulse.” And the only way to keep people with those traits off your board is to be conscious about what you want AND what you do NOT want.

(As an aside, how many of the people on your list of “dream board members” have huge egos? Are you really sure you want them as part of your team?)

You now have your list of what you’re looking for. And Kelly’s quote above says it: You want to find people who are so passionate and excited about your cause that they want to help however they can.

The rest of the Board Recruitment book shows how to find those folks – and how to “test drive” them to be sure there is a fit. But the bottom line is this: If you don’t specify what you are looking for – AND what you are NOT looking for – then warm blood and a pulse will continue to be your recruitment criteria.

Which leads to the tag line we have used since the book came out, back in 2001:

Think of the worst board members you have ever seen, and remember: Someone recruited them.

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