Best practices for recruiting nonprofit board directors have been around for many years and the bulk of them are still applicable today. At the same time, so many things related to business, the economy and society are going through an unprecedented degree of change. In recruiting nonprofit board directors, nominating committees for nonprofits need to find the right fit to lead the organization today and for the future.
The nominating committee plays a major role in finding the right candidates, leading them to the organization and helping them to find their place within the organization. The orientation is an especially helpful process for new board candidates, and it should be the new director’s first exposure to the importance of good governance as it pertains to their role on the board. Nomination committees also need to consider what size their board needs to be, regardless of its size in the past, so that it can be as productive as possible. Nominating committees would also be wise to consider all the places that they might use as resources to help them look outside the expected places for finding board directors.
Nonprofit Nominating Committee Basics
We would be remiss to talk about nominating committee basics without talking about diversity because it’s one of the major governance topics of our times. Diversity on the board of directors is just as important for nonprofit organizations as it is for any other entity. As with other types of entities, it’s important for nominating committees to consider diversity in connection with other characteristics and qualities that someone could bring into the boardroom.
Perhaps one of the most important nominating basics of today is for nominating committees to be forward thinking. Changes in our society are happening so quickly that boards need to be ready to deal with whatever challenges and opportunities the future brings. In considering who will help make up the best board composition, it’s essential for nominating committees to assess the types of directors the board will need in the next three to five years.
Recruiting nonprofit board members should be a continuous process where the committee proactively identifies and vets candidates. Nominating committees may also take some time to cultivate candidates and prepare them for nonprofit board service even before they’ve been formally asked to join the board. Timing is an important issue. It must be the right time for the board director and for the nonprofit board. Nominating committees may opt to offer potential board candidates a position as a volunteer or give them a seat on a committee to determine if they’re a good fit and to help prepare them for board service.
The Role of the Nominating Committee
Nominating committees have multifaceted duties in finding the best candidates to serve on nonprofit boards. Beyond finding prospective candidates, they need to ensure they’re choosing candidates who will be effective in their service and who will be committed to following good governance principles.
All board directors should be on the lookout for people who could fill the needs of the board. Upon finding suitable candidates, they should make referrals to the nominating committee. Official invitations to join the board should only come from nominating committees. Some nominating committees make it a practice to create and offer a letter of interest to prospective candidates so they can gauge their level of interest. In the end, it’s vital that boards do not ask candidates to accept a position prematurely, before they’ve had the proper time to vet them and evaluate their fitness for the board.
It’s common for nonprofit boards to develop a matrix of board skills. The best time to do this is after the annual board self-evaluation. Annual self-evaluations are easily done with BoardEffect board management software, which will also serve as meeting management and secure communication tools. Self-evaluation time is generally a good time to identify the skills that the board is lacking and those skills that the board will need in the near future to run the organization effectively.
Nominating committees should focus on the potential for the board to be effective. That requires keeping an open mind and not limiting thinking. One way to gauge a potential board director’s interest and fit is by taking note of the questions the candidate is asking. Did a candidate ask questions about the organization and the current board? Did they ask about the history of the organization? Were they curious about where the organization is headed? Did they inquire about board dynamics?
Candidates with potential will be eager to learn more about the constituents that the nonprofit serves and will be good advocates for the organization’s mission. They’ll be the type of directors who ensure the prudent use of funds, inspire sound planning for the future and be willing to participate in ongoing education to help keep the organization’s vision alive.
Nominating committees must keep governance issues at the heart of their board candidate search. Good governance is being highlighted in relation to all types of entities, including nonprofits. They’ll want to choose board members who will be engaged and accountable and who will manage the group’s assets well. The best board members are committed to protecting the organization’s reputation and continually adhering to its mission.
Networking is a good way to find good board director candidates. In addition, nominating committees might make use of board matching services, LinkedIn or third-party headhunters to get the best candidates. Many groups look for up-and-coming community leaders, which is another excellent way to find board candidates.
Once board directors have been voted onto the board, their work is just beginning. A good quality board orientation is always a good idea and it should be scheduled as soon as possible after the appointment. Many nonprofits find it helpful to assign a board buddy or mentor for the first year of board service to acclimate new directors to their duties and responsibilities and give them a personal sounding board.
When boards get too large, it can be difficult to hear all perspectives, which nullifies the point of having a diverse board. There’s a current trend toward smaller boards. The downside with smaller boards is that they’re limiting their perspectives and possibly the degree of work that they’re able to do. Deciding on board size is something that will differ according to the size and type of nonprofit organization. The point is that boards should pick a number or a range for the maximum number of board members that they believe will give them the best slate for doing the necessary work.
With the advancement of governance principles for nonprofits, it has never been more important to put effectiveness, diversity and good governance at the top of every potential board candidate’s list of required attributes.