Lately I have been thinking about the problem of “getting the right people on the bus” – or, rather, around the nonprofit board table. A number of articles on exactly this topic have crossed my desk lately, so I know this is on a lot of people’s minds.
One of these articles suggested that we currently make board recruitment more complicated than it needs to be – all that’s necessary is to sit current board members down, write out a job description for potential members, and then ask each other “who do we know?” And voilà, you have a high-performing board that is passionate about your organization’s mission and happy to raise all the money needed to achieve it.
But while this sounds seductively simple and therefore appealing, I fear the approach is more suited to the board of yesterday than the challenge of today’s environment.
The fact is, today’s nonprofit boardroom IS complicated. The work board members do there requires increasingly more sophisticated, not-simple skills. “Who you know” is not enough for successful board recruitment anymore, because if you’re like most people, the folks you know are, by and large, just like you! “Who you know” is likely to replicate the same set of views you already have around the table. Boards need the perspective that comes from a diversity of thought, experience, skill set, and profession.
I have expressed my view before that there is a kind of transformation going on in all of our institutions at the moment, including the nonprofit ones, and the group that is responsible with helping to chart an organization’s future is around the board table. Yes, you have to ensure your mission is still relevant; yes, you must ensure that board members, especially new ones, understand their responsibilities clearly; but the most critical factor is that you have different generations, life experiences, genders, professional training, and ethnicities around that table who are committed to bring their unique perspectives to bear on yes, very complicated and important issues. I wish it were simpler.