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It's Election Season: Time to Strengthen Your Board Nomination Process

Tuesday, November 17, 2015   (0 Comments)

Written by Jennifer Richard, Esq., CFRE, COO, Winkler Group

A nonprofit’s success depends on strategic, visionary leadership from the board. But are we, as nonprofit leaders, spending enough time selecting and properly vetting these key figures?

As presidential candidates vie for their party’s nomination, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate our own nomination processes. Board members play a critical role in moving our organizations forward, so investing time and effort in the nomination process is a worthwhile effort.

Every organization or institution has highly customized and specific needs of its board members.  Some are looking for visionary thinkers, while others need more hands-on guidance. But every board member should share key attributes, namely a passion for your mission and the ability to raise funds to support it.

Here are six steps we use to guide clients in the board nomination process.

Step 1: Assess your Current Board

Effective board recruitment follows the principles of matching available resources with existing needs. How does a board know what it needs? It must first clarify what it already has. A board profile grid—one that lists applicable board skills and abilities down one side and current board members across the top—reveals any missing ingredients and allows the board to focus its search in the right direction. By grouping board members by their board term, you can see what skills you’ll lose each year.

Step 2: Advance the Mission

Look to your strategic plan to identify your organization’s critical needs over the next two to three years. Perhaps you are preparing for a capital campaign and need board members with capacity and influence. Perhaps you need to network with prospective supporters in a specific industry or with a specific demographic profile. Perhaps you are facing legislative pressures and connected advocates will be critical. Identify your critical path and the criteria that candidates must meet to help advance the mission and move your organization forward.

Step 3: Enlist Outside Input

Do your board members all know the same people? Meet with community members who might be able to recommend candidates your board doesn’t already know. You can expand your network by engaging community stakeholders in the process. They may even identify themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask community leaders for their assistance.

Step 4: Prioritize Candidates

Once you have a list of names, prioritize the candidates in relation to their perceived ability. Do they meet the needs you identified in steps 1 and 2? Will they move the organization forward on its critical path? Reach out to the most highly ranked candidates to determine their interest in being considered for board trusteeship.

Step 5: Vet Candidates

Conduct in-person meeting with prospective board members to explain more fully the roles and responsibilities of the board as a whole and individual board trustee responsibility. Be clear and transparent about the specific ways in which you would like them to help. You may need an accountant on the board, but if your identified candidate doesn’t want to serve on the finance committee, you should look for someone else.

Step 6: Select Nominees

Evaluate each candidate after the orientation on the criteria developed in step 2. Judge their commitment to the mission, time available for board work, key skills, knowledge, and their willingness to serve in the capacity you need. In accordance with the bylaws, develop election materials for only those candidates who best meet the needs of the organization.

As you work through these steps, keep in mind some key qualities of successful board members. We like to look for candidates who possess the 5 Ps.

  • Proven

    A visible, accomplished leader not only brings experience and wisdom to your nonprofit but also attracts other successful community volunteers who want to associate with him or her.

  • Passionate

    A good board member is effective at leveraging support for a cause when his or her passion for it shines through.  A board member’s genuine belief in the importance and urgency of the mission is critical to attract even more support.

  • Positive

    A positive attitude goes a long way in solving challenges and growing support.  By building a positive and respectful board, your staff and volunteers will accomplish great things.  

  • Pace Setter

    An effective board member should be excited about making a gift, or cultivating others to give.  

  • Personally Involved

    A board member must be willing to make your organization a primary focuses throughout their board tenure.  The other Ps work to your advantage only when the volunteer is personally involved.  Don’t settle on this P, or you risk having an honorary board member instead of the working one you need to succeed.
Resist the temptation to fill your next board vacancy with the busy community leader who sits on every board in town, the dedicated volunteer with no sphere of influence, or the wealthy socialite who cares little for your cause. Take time and invest in your organization by carefully selecting those who will help steer your future.   

Author: Jennifer Richard, Esq., CFRE is Chief Operations Officer for the Winkler Group. She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, cum laude, and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania.

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