Archive for March, 2010

>“Don’t just grab any warm body” – Effective recruiting of directors for NFP boards

>Anyone involved with boards of directors in the not-for-profit world knows the challenges involved in finding new directors. A job on an NFP board is invariably unpaid, usually time-consuming, and no less likely to bring potential liabilities with it.

I have been working with four NFP boards over the past couple of months where board composition has been a hot topic. The discussions around the board table usually lead to various incumbent directors saying something like: “I know XYZ, they would be great for our board and they have great experience in [law, finance, marketing or some other impressive occupation]”. There are then at least one or two other such helpful suggestions; the temptation is that given NFP directors are considered to be so hard to find, boards will take any warm body with a halfway-decent CV.

Every time I hear this, I have to intervene with a fervent “WAIT!” It may be better to have a vacancy on the board than fill it with someone who is not right for the job, the board or the organisation.

While recruiting new NFP directors may seem to be a real hurdle, you can put your board in the best position possible to find and attract the best candidates. There are just a few simple rules to follow.

The first rule is: “Only recruit into the gaps”. Before any recruitment process starts, the board should have a session where it looks at the skills, experience, knowledge and personal qualities it will need on the board to deliver the strategic plan, or meet the various strategic challenges the organisation will face, over the next two to three years.

The board should look at the skills and other factors from three perspectives:

Core business – what are the essential activities which the organisation delivers and for which there should be some coverage on the board? Think about the Coles Myer board a little while ago: knowledgeable and experienced people but no-one with solid retail experience.

Functional factors – what skills etc would it be advantageous to have on the board to support the core business? This where professional backgrounds in particular areas can become relevant.

Organisation-specific factors – what personal qualities, philosophies, and mix of these are important to your organisation? These can include diversity of gender, ethnicity, age or background; commitment to the causes your organisation stands for; and resonance with the social need your NFP is seeking to address.

Even an Excel dummy like me can put these various factors into the first column of a spreadsheet, then put each director’s name in the next few columns, and hey: you can now assess which of the various factors are already covered with the board’s current composition – and where the gaps are. These are the gaps into which you should recruit new directors. You may then need to apply one last filter over the gaps – overall fit. What kind of a person do you need to work successfully within the culture and collegiality of your board and your organisation?

Hint 1. – each director will assess the extent to which they might fill the factors identified, but some people are too humble, or might be over-enthusiastic, about their own abilities. It can help to do a peer review of skills, with either the chair or the rest of the board looking at each director’s own assessment.

Hint 2. – having someone external to the board run the identification and assessment process can leave the board to concentrate on the work at hand, and can manage the peer review in a less threatening way.

I’ll cover the remaining simple rules for effective recruiting of NFP directors in subsequent posts.

“The Board Coach”

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