RECRUITMENT OF EFFECTIVE BOARD MEMBERS DEPENDS UPON MUTUAL RESPECT
By Kent Burress
It’s board member hunting season in our little corner of the non-profit world. We have a strict tenure policy, so every year about this time we recruit a few new board members. It’s a good policy that guarantees a renewing flow of ideas, energy, expertise and enthusiasm while still ensuring continuity and board mentors.
Our board recruitment strategy is a straightforward process rooted in objectivity. We look carefully at the goals we have committed to accomplish over the next five years, we review our board matrix to identify any missing strengths we will need in order to successfully reach those goals, we get organizational and community input, and then we put together our hit list. The key is that our recruitment process is guided by the strategic needs of the organization. We clearly identify the board member attributes that will strengthen our organization, and we are guided by those attributes more than by individuals.
Many wonderful people possess the qualities found in great board members. The key, though, is to connect with the individual who will be the best fit for the organization at this specific moment of the organization’s evolution. There are no “cookie cutter” board members. This critical component of the recruitment process cannot be compromised – and it also doesn’t happen at a quick nominating committee meeting after a board meeting. To fall back to that opening hunting reference, a smart hunter doesn’t wait until the day before the season opens to scope out the most promising options. Throughout the year we identify strong candidates so that we have an excellent pool for consideration when we complete our organizational needs assessment.
In all honesty, that is the easier part of the process – there are tools and matrices and spreadsheets to get a lot of that taken care of. It’s when the subjective comes into play that things get a little more challenging – and potentially rewarding. To guide us through the selection process, we rely on what we consider the primary organizational responsibility of our board members: the duty of care. Now, don’t gloss over this thinking I am about to launch into some touchy feely discourse on passion for the organizational mission – I’m not. What I am referring to is discerning whether an individual possesses the wherewithal to meet the emerging and ongoing needs of the organization.
One could even argue that passion for the mission need not necessarily be a pre-requisite for board membership. It is certainly a plus, but the reality is that there is a wide range of motives that compel different individuals, all with excellent abilities, to be good board members. When we are evaluating board candidates, we need to be careful not to discount potential board members based solely on what motivates them to serve. Appropriate abilities focused toward the good of an organization are equally effective whether they stem from altruism or from something more benefit related. When everyone is finally gathered around the board table, it is incumbent upon the organization to fuel or refuel a board member’s passion for the mission.
Which brings up an important point – successful board membership is a joint responsibility. As is true with so many aspects of life, relationship is a key element here. One of a board member’s prime responsibilities is to be present for the organization with their whole being. After all, they were specifically chosen because of the abilities and skill sets they possess – so we need them to bring it all to the table.
Just as the board member has responsibilities to the organization, the organization in turn has crucial responsibilities to the board member. Certainly the organization has a responsibility to provide a basic playbook that clearly outlines the responsibilities of board membership – if our organization doesn’t have this in place, you are likely hampering the board members’ and the organization’s success. But beyond this, and arguably even more importantly, the organization must strengthen the board member relationship by providing clearly defined and meaningful paths for engagement with the mission, by accurately and effectively communicating the organization’s needs, and by lauding that board member’s successes when they come. The flip side of that, of course, is that the organization has the responsibility of addressing any significant shortcomings on the part of the board member. Leadership comes with a learning curve.
All these efforts loop back to our foundational objective of board membership – the duty of care for the organization. The degree to which that duty is successfully accomplished by everyone concerned is reflected in the ongoing health of the organization – both internally and externally.
When new board members are selected, I send out a board packet that includes a welcome letter. In that letter I include the statement, “Our hope is that you will gain a great sense of accomplishment through your work on this board and that your life will be enriched through your service here.” That statement is not just a nice hook to garner favor with the new board member. Rather it is our commitment to offer opportunities, interactions, and resources that will lead to mutual success.
Kent Burress is Chief Executive Officer for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Austin and Central Texas. Kent is not a hunter, and no animals were harmed in the creation of this article.
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