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Strategic Board Recruitment: How to Assess and Address Your Board Leadership Needs

I often hear “Our board is not diverse or engaged enough” from frustrated Executive Directors and board members about the current condition of their boards. This is often a direct result of a lack of knowledge of best practices board governance.

The Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector offers a “standard” for board recruitment:

“The board should establish a rigorous board development strategy for recruiting and selecting new members and ensuring that the board has an appropriate mix of talent, connections to the community, and diversity.”

In practice, the board should have a policy something like this: The board of directors shall be composed of persons representing the diversity of the community that we serve, taking into account race, gender, economic status, age, and other factors.

Sadly, often the biggest barrier to effective board diversity and engagement is simply that no one is working on it. Many boards lack a Governance or Board Development Committee so there is no one responsible to achieve a diverse, engaged board. Moreover, with a little strategic thinking and networking, your board can be the diverse group of leaders that you yearn for to advance your mission.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Establish or re-energize a Governance or Board Development Committee. This committee facilitates the process to identify, cultivate, recruit and orient new members and plan for leadership succession. It also should evaluate the performance of current board members, individually and collectively. It is helpful to have committee members who are respected by the board, understand governance issues, and have wide community contacts.

2. Evaluate the diversity of the community served, analyzing both the demographic data of the service area as well as those served.

3. Evaluate the demographic and skill diversity of your current board, by looking at:

· race,

· ethnicity,

· gender,

· geographic location,

· economic status,

· disability,

· professional background

· Knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs)

4. Determine the “ideal model” of board composition based on the community demographics and KSAs needed.

5. Assess the “gap” between your current board composition and your “ideal model.”

a. Be clear about the characteristics you want/need.

b. Update the board application form to gather the information that you are looking for in a candidate.

c. Don’t be afraid to create the “ideal” profile “combination” of KSAs

d. Write down the profile of your board recruitment needs because committing it to writing makes it real. For example, it is ok to say, “ideally, we would like to recruit an African American individual who identifies as a woman who is an IT professional from the western part of our service territory. “

6. Start networking to find your ideal candidate(s). Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people on average are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other. As a result, a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. In most communities, even large cities, one or more of your board members could find your ideal candidates in 2-3 networking contacts. Here’s how:

a. Brainstorm list of people/ organizations to network with

b. Prepare a recruitment “packet” – what do you want the individual you are looking for to “do” on the board once they join? You want an IT professional to serve on the Program Committee to help us ensure that we are appropriately using technology in service to the mission. The total commitment is less than 20 hours a year; 4 board meetings, 4 committees and 3 major events over the course of the year.

c. Create assignments for outreach – organize your board members to contact those who might know the candidate you are looking for, even if you don’t personally know someone who fits the profile you are looking for.

d. Utilize Social Media/Advertising to get the word out about your ideal candidates.

e. Follow up with those who have assignments.

7. Call us if you need help. Sometimes it’s easier to initiate something new with an outside person who can help get you started.

Following this simple approach can make all the difference in the world in your strategic board recruitment.


Debra Thompson is a consultant, trainer and peer reviewer for the PA and National Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. She served two consecutive terms on the National Standards for Excellence Council, the policy making body that oversees the National Standards for Excellence® Accreditation.

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