A non profit Board should always be on the look out for fresh talent – new Board members. This is usually the time of year the nominating committee starts to look for those new members for midsummer elections. Everyone is talking about the Pro Draft – that’s what the nominating committee is – the committee looking for some one that has that special ”something” to help the Board succeed. This candidate must have staying power, stomach for the hard stuff, heart for the long haul, and courage under fire.
The first rule – no stereotyping. For example, we have a Congress that thought a guy lobbying for clients and throwing around money had staying power. What did they get? A thug who is singing like a frightened canary. However, look what the gang got when they bet on Nemo, a little clown fish with heart, courage and staying power. The trick is to find the true measure of a candidate. Don’t be afraid to look at some unlikely folks, and match the Board’s needs with the talent around town.
Second rule – follow the money. If there are consistent donors to your agency, give them a good study. Their financial commitment is an indication of their belief in the mission and may translate into volunteer Board service. Many donors prefer to have their money do their serve. But ask. Sometimes, its the right offer at the right time. Even if the offer is declined, your donor has again learned how much your agency values him or her.
The third rule – never date your sister (or brother.) I’ll bet you wonder where I’m going with this. Stay with me – it’ll make sense. Often, an agency is tempted to invite a retired employee to join the Board. WRONG. There are two types of folks who should not be asked to join the Board. A former employee and a former client. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t good folks who would work hard and give their all. They may give more than anyone wants. Look at these potential candidates and just remember the inverse proportions of math. The further away in time a person is from employment or from assistance from the agency, the better the chance that such a person will became a great Board member. So let some time elapse before the invitation is made. And give the invitation serious thought.
The fourth rule – good vibrations. The yin and yang keep the good vibes going. Look for a pessimist and match that person with an optimist. Just don’t let them sit near one another at meetings. By pessimist, I mean more than some one who is negative. It should be some one who nitpicks, finishes thoughts and always tries to wrap up the current discussion before the Board leaps to a new, unrelated topic. This person says things like,”I thought we decided at the last meeting to……” or “I may have missed something but exactly who is going to….?” Be grateful those folks are paying attention. Because, remember that optimist. That’s the person who grabs a loose thought and has the whole Board voting to try some venture unrelated to mission, but spectacular in concept and crippling if it fails. When they both agree, the Board is onto something big.
Fifth rule – save the last dance. As I look for Board recruits, I like to hold a position open. That flexibility is probably in your bylaws. Something like, “the Board shall be not less than, nor more than… “ I like to never reach the “more than,” so that there is always an opportunity to invite a midyear participant. Sort of bringing some one in from the bench. Of course, make sure the nominee is some one the Board members know. That’s the value of the nominating committee working year round and keeping a “draft” list that the Board discusses periodically. But why would you need a mid year entry? Well, Boards and agencies are like any good soap opera – vice, virtue, sex, embezzlement. The crisis can be anything from the death of the Board Chair (sorry all you chairs!) to a financial brouhaha. As the drama unfolds a new person with a calm demeanor, familiar with crisis management, and respected in the community for solid thinking can strengthen a board to act appropriately.
There you have it – some one old, some one new, some one – oops, wrong column. Building a Board is like recruiting a good team. The Nominating Committee should always be scouting the community for candidates who have qualities the Board needs – commitment, caution, daring, experience and especially heart. Make sure the list of potential Board members includes some one who can make the next touchdown or hold the line. Don’t ignore some one going against type, like the clown fish with the gimpy fin – He’s got what it takes.
January 2006 Finding Nemo