Board member recruitment is an everlasting job for a board. It’s important to always look for fresh faces and ideas. Board members are looking high and low for people interested in service, skilled in team work, able to understand a balance sheet, or just some one who is breathing. It is a sophisticated process that should be operating year-round. A board never knows when a tragedy or life change will strike membership. Some groups are more skilled than others in successful recruitment. This has led to the myth that there is a Mr. Big or some such persona pulling the strings in some smoke filled back room and the popular, donor favs, get the best board members. In the Land of Lost Board Members, where it is never really light and never really dark, a smoke filled room could operate under your nose and not be noticed.
Then one day I walked passed the Recycle Shop and thought I would stop. And the myth became fact. The Recycle Shop is the place to buy and sell, recycle if you will, old audits, strategic plans, old letterhead, old computers, various consultant directories, but you get the picture. Behind an old shower curtain at the back of the store, I heard this discussion as the cigar smoke stung my eyes.
“I’ll give you one lawyer for two retirees,” growled a gravel voice.
“I got a lawyer, what I need is some one to help with our marketing plan.” twittered a singsong voice.
“Well we need a lawyer, but it has to be a woman, and does anyone have a CPA?” countered a courtly drawl.
“That’s all well and good but I need folks who can spend time as volunteer office help.” The gravel voice was impatient.
Behind the curtain several board chairmen and membership recruiters were bidding on potential board nominees. There were bits of paper around the floor, charts on the wall and an old flypaper strip hanging from the 25 watt bulb in the low ceiling.
As I continued to listen, the gravel voice said, “I want to trade you for Cash Now.” He looked at the woman next to him. “I served with Cash in the past and want him with me on this board. And I don’t want to take a chance on some unknown CPA.”
“But that’s incestuous,” I blurted
“Don’t you come in here and talk dirty, girlie,” he growled.
“You should be raising new leadership, not relying on the good few who are always there. Why it’s like everyone sharing the same shoes.”
“I told you to watch that kind of talk. We don’t go along with folks who are sharing clothes – what next your underwear?”
A woman gasped and fainted.
“See what you’ve done. I told you we don’t go along with you transvesti sorts,” the growler said. “Look here, girlie, we don’t want new folks that we got to get used to coming into our clubs.”
“These are boards not clubs!! You need new people to bring in fresh ideas and new energy,” I argued.
“If we wanted fresh, we’d open the window, ya hear?”
“But you won’t do your agency any good if you just recycle your old friends. No matter how hard working and dedicated, they will give out under the challenge of running from one meeting to the next without time for rest and reflection. You can’t fund raise year round for several different groups before all the messages blur and your friends aren’t sure what you believe in.”
The fainting woman revived and said, “Oh, dearie, I know what you mean – sometimes I’m not sure if am asking for money for kids or cats.”
“Why, I remember one time, I went to a fund raiser for one of my boards and discovered that the money would go to develop a competing program for another one of my boards,” grinned gravel voice.
“Well I solved my problem,” he continued, “I started another agency and blew them both out of the water.”
“Somehow, I never think of warfare as nonprofit.” I looked around at the people in the room. “All I’m saying is that there are better ways to develop board membership.”
The man with the gravel voice rolled the cigar around his lips, looked at those gathered in the back room, then nodded at me. “Well, we ain’t got all day.”
I coughed, “First, lets open a window.”
August 2007 The Smoke Filled Room-Part I