Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young professionals convened by the DC chapter of YNPN (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network). The topic of our luncheon was board service, and I was struck by the group’s level of interest, enthusiasm and commitment. Apparently, the luncheon sold out within a few days of its announcement – a clear signal that there is an abundance of young leaders who are motivated and willing to serve on boards.
So how do we make sure that these leaders find board positions where they can make the most difference, and how do they ensure that they’re up for the challenge of serving?
I think the answer is right in front of us (and our HR people might be snickering that it’s taken us so long to figure it out): We hire them.
It’s pretty widely accepted that hiring the wrong person for a job is much worse than having a vacant position. That’s why organizations and companies spend so much time and money making sure they get it right. We understand that we won’t be able to deliver the results that we need to achieve our mission and goals unless we have the right people.
But when it comes to board recruitment, it seems that those tried-and-true employment practices go out the window all too often. Organizations often leave it to chance or circumstance when it comes to board recruitment by identifying potential board candidates based on friendships or casual acquaintance.
The results of similar practices in the workplace would be laughable. So why do we expect anything different in the boardroom?
If we want smart, motivated people with the skill sets we need serving on our boards, then we need to approach each board seat like a job — one that is worthy of a true search process and that results in well-informed candidates who know exactly what they’re signing up for.
Not sure what that means or how to get started? Here are a few tips:
- Figure out what job you’re hiring for. You can’t find the right person if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Take the time to identify who and what your board needs in terms of skills, expertise, and spheres of influence. Think about what your organization needs not just now but five or 10 years into the future.
- Write a job description. You’ll be amazed how much it will help you crystalize and clarify your board’s needs to formalize an opening as a job description. But that’s not the only reason that you need one. A board job description is essential for communicating to potential board candidates what your expectations and needs are, and that’s the first step in helping the right candidates find you.
- Get the word out. Just like in employee recruitment, it’s important to cast a wide net when you’re searching for your next board leader. Use the power of formal networks like LinkedIn, Bridgespan, BoardNetUSA, and other job and board posting services, in addition to more informal outreach through current board members and staff. You’ll be amazed at how many potential leaders you can identify when you broaden the net.
- Interview. When hiring an employee, the interview is an opportunity to get to know each other a bit and evaluate whether or not the skills and strengths that you see on paper actually translate into a good fit. Does this individual truly have the skills and expertise that you need to move your organization forward? Is this someone who can bring the personality and approach required? Does he or she understand the opportunities ahead for your organization and is he or she up for the challenge? An interview is essential to making sure that a board candidate is the right fit for your organization, and vice versa. Skipping this essential step is a recipe for disaster.
- Make the offer. Once you have the right candidate, it’s up to you to make an offer. But in board service, it’s not about salary or benefits…it’s about the opportunity to impact a mission. Explain why you think the candidate would be a great addition to your board, and how you think he or she can make a difference. Make it clear why you need him or her, and you’ll find that he or she is not just willing — but excited — to serve.
Do you have a success story of hiring the right board member? We’d love to hear about it.
You’re not alone. This week, BoardSource launched a new recruiting center on our website, designed to help organizations search for board leaders and individuals search for a board position. Let us know what you think.