One of the best pieces of advice for any nonprofit organization may be to get rid of your nonprofit board nominating committee. For most organizations, the nominating committee has two primary functions: to fill vacant board seats and to elect officers of the board. In most cases, this committee is ad hoc, appointed by the president or chair a few months before terms are due to expire. Sometimes nominations are an afterthought. In fact, one of the worst examples I’ve seen about how not to recruit board members was at a December board meeting where the executive director announced, “A few of you have terms expiring this month so we need a few more board members, anyone have any ideas?”
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked myself. Several things:
- It was December.
- The executive director raised the subject.
- No one had any ideas—of course that may have been the good news!
Even when an organization has a nominating committee to handle this job, it is often done wrong. In these cases, by the time the board chair appoints a nominating committee, most of the board members are busy with other committees and nominations seem to fall to someone who is not that committed or excited about the task. The attitude is sometimes, “Well, this is not that big a job.” How much harm can this thinking do? The answer is, a lot!
So What is the Best Option?
Instead of a nominating committee, I recommend a year-round board resource committee. This committee can also be called the board development committee, the governance committee or the committee on directorship. (For our purposes here, I will use the board resource committee.) Whatever the title, the important things to remember about this committee are:
- It must meet year-round because of the scope of its work (see below).
- It needs to be chaired by one of the strongest individuals on the board.
- Its duties include doing an assessment of board performance, both the board as a whole and as individual board members.
- It is responsible for developing or refining board position descriptions.
- It evaluates the needs of the board and develops a profile of the kinds of people that are needed to fill vacancies on the board.
- It works with the rest of the board members to help find the right people to fill board positions.
- It promotes diversity on the board.
- It implements, along with senior staff members of the organization, board orientation.
- It is responsible for ongoing education of the board.
Board Resource Committee Process
The board resource committee is perhaps the most important committee of the board, not an afterthought. This committee, once in place, should first analyze the current strengths and weaknesses of the board. Board members should be profiled, according to several characteristics:
- The years their terms expire
- Diversity indicators, e.g., ethnicity, gender, geographic location
- Skills, talents and areas of special expertise
- Giving ability
- Contacts with various groups such as media, funders, and government agencies.
- Other factors related to strategic needs.
Once this assessment is complete, the committee can determine where there are gaps. Criteria can then be developed for recruitment of new board members.
The committee then takes the results of their assessment to the full board and asks for names to be considered for nomination to the board. Individual board members should never haphazardly, or on their own, recruit new board members. Names and resumes are given to the board resource committee for consideration. No one should ever be approached with an automatic assumption that they will be invited to serve on the board, but rather only that their name is being considered by the committee.
The committee then arranges a meeting with the prospective board member. Given how critical the board/executive relationship is to the organization, the executive director should be included in this meeting. Board position descriptions are shared with the prospective board member and expectations of both the organization and the prospective board member discussed. Once the committee feels it has a slate of candidates to present, names are then brought to the full board for approval. After the new candidates are elected by the board, the committee contacts them, inviting them to join the board and attend their first board meeting.
The board resource committee is also responsible for providing orientation for new board members and may implement a “Board Buddy,” or mentoring program for new board members. This committee also makes recommendations for board officers to be presented to the full board for election. The same thoughtful process that goes into recruiting new board members should go into the board officer selection.
As stated earlier, it is important that this committee meets on a year-round basis and evaluates any problem issues that may arise within the board as a whole or with individual board members. Ongoing board education is also a responsibility of this committee and can greatly improve the effectiveness of the board. As an example, this committee might arrange for case workers to make presentations at a board meeting of a human service agency. Or the curator of fine arts might provide education for museum board members. The committee should evaluate the needs for board education and work with the executive director to provide the appropriate educational segments at board meetings and/or retreats.
A board resource committee, working thoughtfully and diligently on an ongoing basis, can make all the difference between an effective, enthused and inspired board, and a lackadaisical one that does not understand its role in advancing the organization’s mission.