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How to train and recruit board members the right way

Board member recruitment is an annual process for finding the best people to support your mission: those with time, talent, and treasure, to govern the organization. But too many of us are putting it off, using shortcuts that undermine the process, or moving it down our long list of priorities. Here are three quick tips to inform your process, and make it easier to move recruitment toward the top of your to-do list:

1. Enlist your governance committee or other board members in the process. Create a committee of two or three board members and task them with a six-month schedule for recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding new members. Why should you plan on six months, rather than just one or two?

The extra time allows you to be more thorough and rigorous, resulting in board members that are better qualified and able to do more for your nonprofit. Good onboarding sessions should be carried out by current board members, getting new members engaged in the culture of your nonprofit, current issues facing it, and the role played by the board. Cover topics like the hows and whys of strategic planning and financial planning, board committees, people on staff and their positions, and expectations for board members (including expected contributions). These sessions should also communicate, and generate, the excitement within the organization for new board members.

Good onboarding sessions should be carried out by current board members, getting new members engaged in the culture of your nonprofit, current issues facing it, and the role played by the board.

2. Before you start generating names of “good” people, determine the skills you need on the board. You can do this by conducting a “skills gap analysis” of your board members to show you what you have on-hand and what you’re lacking.

These analyses take time—up to a month when done well—but the structure provided by them, and the insight generated in the discussion of your needs, is vital to the health of your nonprofit. Yes, it’s easier to do some brainstorming, but you’ll often end up retreading ground you’ve already covered, and miss what you really need.

A formal process shows people you mean business, leading them to take you more seriously, and ultimately work harder for you.

3. Your nonprofit is a serious organization, so act like it: Use a formal application process for prospective board members. Conduct serious interviews with prospects, asking them hard questions and letting them ask you questions in turn. This will inform candidates about you and the organization, and your expectations for board members’ investment of time, talent, and treasure.

A formal process shows people you mean business, leading them to take you more seriously, and ultimately work harder for you. It also gives you a better idea about a prospect’s suitability for the role, letting you more easily weed out people who are a bad fit.

Kathy Keeley is executive vice president of programs and a senior consultant at GCN.

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