My wise and seasoned colleague Rick Moyers, of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, has penned a great article on the recruitment process (or not) for selecting community benefit organization board members.
Moyer’s four points are spot-on and mirror an experience I once had (and explain empty chairs at board meetings!)
Let’s dive into the four points—then I’ll add a fifth.
1. Notice how you’re being recruited.
Is the process thoughtful or were you approached at an event for another organization? Bad form in my book if it’s the latter. I take board responsibility seriously and have never been one to join as a resume builder. The recruitment process should be thoughtful and must make sense for you and the organization.
2. Take your time.
It's an honor to serve on a CBO board. However, I have seen--and heard of -- situations where board members recruit their friends in a rush-like party environment, where excitement has a good chance of overcoming common sense. We are all guilty of letting emotions drive decisions. (Me too!) But the reality is that agreeing to serve is just the first step.
In my humble opinion, the most effective boards are comprised of affluence, influence, sweat equity, or some combination. As Moyer points out, the minimum commitment is probably two years, but likely much longer—up to eight. This is a significant amount of time to be fully engaged in the mission of an organization. So, good advice from Moyer….take your time. Don't allow yourself to be rushed!
3. Ask pointed questions.
If conversations around recruitment are full of fuzzy responses, don’t be bashful, write down a list of questions: What’s the make-up of the current board? What do you bring to the table? What are the expectations—will you be expected to join a committee? What's the monthly time commitment? What are the goals of the organization over the next 2-3 years? How will they approach these goals? If fundraising is an expectation, what is the competition—how many organizations are in this space that are also fundraising for the same/similar program?
Visit the CBO’s website. Does your community host one of GuideStar’s Donor Edge* platforms? If so, take advantage of the information available to you.
Now, I get empty seats at the board meetings. I’ve wondered how folks can join an organization, and then be conspicuously absent. Responses range from ‘they only want to write a check’ to ‘I think he joined because he plays golf with So and So, but it’s not really his thing’. Or ‘I had no idea about the amount of commitment, wish I’d learned more before agreeing’.
*In our area, The Giving Partner houses profiles for more than 300 nonprofits. You can search by a number of keywords to learn about an organization.
4. Get involved in the organization before joining the board.
Investigating the organizations business is a must do, but words and number don't tell the story of the organization's culture. I completely agree with Moyer’s recommendation to ‘get involved’ on a committee or other non-board area. Become a donor. Learn how decisions are made and what’s important. Do they match your own culture? Do you see yourself being involved?
5. What is the mission?
I added this because I have served on about a dozen CBO boards and know that the mission statement is almost never a topic of board conversation. Mission statements are tasked to a committee to develop, are adopted by the board, put on letterhead and never again discussed.
Board meetings tend to cover the organization’s internal business: financials, fundraising, past or upcoming events, media coverage and the like. If the board and executive staff emphasis is internally focused, how is the mission executed?
Some years back, I served on a board for two years before I finally understood the mission. I have to wonder how conversations might have changed if the mission statement were printed at the top of the agenda, and a time allocated at every board meeting to reviewing the organizational plans for alignment.
If you are being recruited by a CBO, ask how they go about the business of their mission. Do their daily, weekly, monthly and annual programs and events align? How many other CBOs are in the same field? Do the organizations collaborate for mission impact? How is success measured?
Are your organizations recruiting for mission impact?
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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