Speed Up the Board Recruitment Process!

Imagine getting excited about volunteering for something, and then waiting six or seven months before you actually get to do it. Can we accelerate the process by "pre-qualifying" candidates?

One of the most frustrating parts of board recruitment is the  length of time -- often months -- between talking with a prospect and then bringing him onto the board . . . months during which the candidate usually becomes less interested. For instance, a person might be tentatively asked in January, discussed by the governance/nominating committee in February, have her name brought to the board for discussion in March, officially interviewed/asked in April, elected by the board in May, and her first board meeting is in July! Some boards invite potential recruits to observe a board meeting before deciding whether to join, which adds even more time.

To accelerate this process, some boards invite candidates to the board meeting at which they will be voted on. The hitch, of course, is that it makes it very difficult for a board NOT to approve someone who is already in attendance (albeit asked to sit in the hall for a few minutes).

Instead, think about "pre-approving" some candidates. Often a few names arise of people who are already known well by several other people on the board: perhaps a community leader, a mayor, a long-term activist, and so forth. In such cases, the board can have a preliminary discussion about the candidate and provisionally approve him or her as a board member. The full board then cedes to the governance committee the power to make a final decision on the candidate based on the outcome of the governance committee's discussion with him or her.  The committee members will interview the candidate, then quickly discuss among themselves how the interview went. If the committee members agree, the person can be immediately notified of his or her acceptance, and can attend the next board meeting.

The accelerated process:

1. The governance or nominating committee brings a list of perhaps five prospects to the board. Of the group, there is immediate consensus that one of them would be terrific, and she is pre-approved: elected to the board pending confirmation by the governance committee and the board chair.

2. The governance committee approaches the pre-approved candidate, and if committee members are still positive and she is interested, the committee reports by phone back to the board chair. Assuming there are no other problems, the committee goes back to the candidate and tells her she has been accepted. For the candidate, the gap between agreeing to join and being accepted is only a couple of weeks.

3. The other four prospects are also approached, but the governance committee discusses each of them before deciding which to bring to the board. They may, for example, decide to pass on one of them, and bring the other three nominees to the full board for a vote.

Remember that most board candidates need to be investigated before being invited to join. Even just one bad board member can set back the board and the organization for years. But with life moving at Internet speed, let's accelerate board recruitment -- when we can -- to keep pace.

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Comments

I'm all for not dragging out a recruitment process, but I'm also a big advocate for the board and prospect to be familiar with each other before a decision is made. Hopefully the learning process will increase the prospect's interest; if it doesn't, then it's just as well for the board to pass on that prospect.
Here are some ways to balance speed with thoroughness:
- Get prospects involved with the organization as a program volunteer or board committee volunteer...let everyone see each other in action.
- Move portions of your board/volunteer orientation into a "Volunteer Opportunities" meeting which allows prospective volunteers of all types to learn about the organization and its expectations for various volunteer roles. Expectations should be clear and comprehensive for each type of volunteer (be sure to include those testy issues for boards such as attendance and giving expectations). Follow-up with 1-on-1 conversations to get prospects' thoughts about how they can see themselves contributing best to the organization.
- Have clear criteria for what the board is looking for - this will make it clearer whether you have the right candidate or not, so that there is less waffling and resultant time delays.
- Encourage prospects to attend Board and potential committee meetings. Assign "buddies" to meet with them a few minutes before and after the meeting to answer questions and to gauge their fit.
Bill Musick
Principal
Tower Hill Resources
Empowering nonprofits through board assesment, training and coaching
Honolulu, HI
BMusick@Tower-Hill.com
www.Tower-Hill.com

I have to agree with Bill on this one. I think sometimes quick is the enemy of quality when it comes to board members. I also would caution anyone about having a 'special process' for certain people.

My question is can a Board vote against a potential member simply because they do not "like" that person?

A board isn't a courtroom. Each person makes up his or her own mind and doesn't need to explain it. Hopefully there is enough history of cooperation on the board so that a person can explain his or her reasons for not liking someone and explore whether those are legitimate reasons. But if that spirit of cooperation isn't already there, it won't get started at this moment.

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