This is the third and final chapter in a recent series about removing nonprofit board members who no longer fit the future needs of the organization. The first two articles offered suggestions on how to remove board members — How to Deal with Difficult Board Members, and When to Let a “Good” Board Member Go. Both of those articles would be helpful to read as well, before we learn how to refill those open seats.
But assuming you’ve made the tough calls, and removed those specific individuals from your board, what do you do now?
How do you fill those open seats with the right new nonprofit board members?
Start with your strategic plan. Using your strategic plan to recruit the right board members is one of the best ways to insure tight alignment between the board and where the agency is headed. Understanding where your agency is going is the best way to determine what you’ll need from your board for future success. What combination of skill sets, experiences, and backgrounds can best position the board to provide helpful agency oversight, great support for you, and the best service to the mission?
If you’re not sure how to create a solid strategic plan for your organization, this article is a great place to start.
Determine what the agency needs from the board to achieve its strategic plan. What does your plan say should happen over the next 3-5 years? Analyze your current nonprofit board members to determine if you have people with the right skills, experiences, and connections to help you achieve your goals? If so, you are all set for the future, if not you may have some pruning recruiting to do ASAP.
Identify the gaps and overlaps in skills, experiences, and knowledge. You may find your board has gaping holes or redundancies in skills and experiences. You’ll want to be sure you have a good mix of board members who bring a variety of talents to the board room.
One way to assess your board make-up, and determine if any areas are lacking, is to complete the Board Profile Worksheet. This tool will help you visualize your current board and help you see what is still needed to achieve your goals.
One social services agency where I served as a director, held out that we represented and provided the entire county with food, clothing, and other services. However, the fact was, we were overly concentrated in three major cities. Most board members, employees, volunteers, and donors came from just three cities and our services were not delivered county-wide. While we had some clients come to us for services from various towns, by far, the majority were located very close to our offices. We really didn’t span the territory we advertised.
We needed to address that shortcoming so we purposely expanded our search for board candidates, key partners, etc. to new towns across the county.
In another case, an agency I worked with had no board member on it’s board with any previous board experience. While each director was a passionate believer in the mission, the agency was suffering from this oversight. None of these directors had any experience running a nonprofit, serving on nonprofit boards, or any significant business experience. While passion can go a long way in a nonprofit it can’t make up for some things—experience being one of them. Every board needs passionate directors and a thoughtful mix of experiences.
Identify and recruit nonprofit board candidates who fill the gaps you found in your board’s current make up. Once you know what your future nonprofit board should look like in terms of skills, experiences, etc, it is time to seek out those people who can fit those needs. Realistically, board recruitment should be a year round activity but in a pinch, you’ll need to make this your top priority!
Take your time to fill those open spots with the right candidates, not the first ones who seem to be good fits. You will have to live with them for a long time so the right ones are infinitely more valuable that the convenient ones. Don’t be surprised if it takes some time to land the best candidates. They are often already serving on other boards and you may have to wait a while until they become available.
Provide new directors with a solid foundation through orientation and training. New directors come with passion and energy but often little in the way of how things work on boards in general — and especially your agency’s board — so they will benefit from a well-designed, comprehensive orientation program.
There is no one perfect orientation program but you can find a list of documents and content you can use this tool to build your own Board Orientation andTraining Manual here.
I also recommend you partner up new directors with those more experienced, in a mentor-like manner — at least for the short term. This will help the new director break in quicker and begin adding value much sooner.
Make 2016 the year you get it right through thoughtful recruiting and orientation of the right candidates. Your 2017-2020 will go much smoother and be a huge success.
For more insight into your board’s current strengths and weaknesses, you can assess the effectiveness and readiness of your current board is with the Breakthrough Quiz.