Over several years, I have conducted nonprofit board recruitment projects. Two boards with which I worked had rather similar challenges.
- They had concerns recruiting sufficient numbers of board members to fill their needs.
- Current board members, largely composed of younger people, in the 30-40-age range, had significant problems balancing work and family obligations and attending board and committee meetings.
- Attendance was sporadic. Although the boards were small, board members really did not know each other, and, in another situation, a board member sent a work subordinate to attend board meetings. A well-regarded board member never attended meetings and only occasionally met with the ED to offer advice. One experienced board member admitted she did not know others involved. In both instances, EDs and board chairs had significant power. One of the EDs complained she was doing the work of operating the organization and operating the board, and she had too much potential liability.
- Although these organizations, with budgets in the $8-$10 million range were operating successfully, the EDs involved realized that they were in line for long-term problems if board recruiting didn’t change.
What to Do
- Consider establishing two boards, a board for governance and a consulting board. For the governance board, make certain the typical directors in the 30-40 year age range have a good understanding of their work-family obligation to be able to devote time for the organization.
- For the consulting board, ask volunteers to work on projects that have a defined time limit. They will not be asked to be involved in more than one or two projects per year, an ideal inducement for millennials who are used to short bursts of activities. It may be necessary to recruit several persons with the same skills to provide coverage for several projects.
- Keep communications flowing to the consulting board as one would to the governing board. Have social and educational events that allow the groups to meet informally. If the organization has a volunteer manager, this person should be charged to keep the communications flowing. Members of the consulting board will only have occasional contact with the organization.
- Overlay the traditional nonprofit skills grid with several time dimensions to recruit:
- Recently retired people, both those traditionally retired and those who retired early, may have time to be candidates for both the governing and consulting boards.
- Seek individual contributors who may have more control of their time, such as doctors, lawyers, professors, and small business owners.
- Seek successful entrepreneurs who can schedule their own time, can resonate with the organization’s mission, vision and values and who want to give back to the community.
Beyond the time requirement, seek persons with experience on for-profit or nonprofit boards so they can share their board knowledge and become models for those having their first board experience. Their questions and behaviors can teach as much or more than formal seminars.
The traditional nonprofit board skills grid can still be helpful in the 21st century. However, it needs to incorporated lifestyle and behavioral information for each board candidate. These are important candidate attributes that must be thoroughly vetted.