Step-by-Step Process Guides Effective Board Recruitment
By Susan Nicholl

Susan Nicholl
Susan Nicholl
Because nominating and electing new board members is a year-round process that is key to the regeneration of your nonprofit’s leadership, staff and all board should be engaged in the process by following seven critical steps.

Step 1: Board and staff should identify potential leaders year-round, not just a few months before a new slate of board members needs to be approved.
  • Board and staff should each keep a short list of people who may be suitable for nomination, either sooner or later.
  • Do not mention this to the prospective candidates!
Step 2: Identify the types of new board members that would benefit the organization.

This task falls to the Governance Committee, working in tandem with the executive director, about six to eight months before new board members will take office.
  • Assess the current composition of your board by creating a chart with columns showing each of the demographics and skills you’d like represented on your board. Do you want geographic diversity? Representation from clients? Marketing or legal expertise? A variety of ages?
  • Ask what new perspectives would provide the insight that the board needs to make decisions and move the organization forward. Would board discussions benefit from having the perspective of clients or a representative from another community organization?
  • At a board meeting, the governance committee should summarize the strengths that the board needs and the types of board members that would benefit the organization. This list should be cross-referenced against the list of board members whose terms are expiring. What skillsets and perspectives will be lost when these board members leave? Do these skillsets and perspectives need to be found in a new board member or are they no longer critical?
  • At the same board meeting, distribute a list of current board members and the date that their current terms expire so that everyone is aware of the number of vacancies expected this year and the next few years as well.
  • Remind board members to think about volunteers, clients, and committee members who may be strong prospective nominees.
Step 3: Create a prioritized order of nominees about four months before new board members will take office.

Based on the board’s discussion in Step 2, staff and board members should provide names of potential nominees to the Governance Committee, making sure to indicate which strengths each candidate will bring to the board and keeping in mind the needed strengths identified in step 2.

The governance committee may choose to ask the nominator to fill out a nomination form that collects such information as the nominee’s current position, contact info, engagement in the community, and skillsets.
  • Governance committee should rank the nominees. For example, if the governance committee has determined that the board’s number-one need is a marketing specialist, any nominee with a marketing skillset should be ranked towards the top.
  • Governance committee should share the names of nominees with board members ONLY for the purposing of asking if any board member has knowledge of a nominee that might be a concern. This communication should take place via email, not in person, in the interest of confidentiality.
  • Make it clear that all prospective nominees will NOT be contacted. For example, if there will be three vacancies on the board, consider sharing a list of six nominees with board members. There is no need to share the ranking with the board; names are sufficient. At this point, the governance committee is still fact-finding.
Step 4: Get a “yes” about three months before new board members take office.
  • Determine which members of the governance committee will contact the top nominees, in priority order. If you are looking to bring on three board members, contact only the first three and then pause.
  • Sometimes it is best if the nominee is contacted by a member of the governance committee that they do not have a relationship with. Contact by the executive director is not preferred but may make sense in some circumstances. (It’s fine if the nominee has a relationship with the ED, but the nominee is being brought in as a board member, not as the ED’s underling or special ally.)
  • Initial outreach: A phone call works fine to let the candidate know that they have been nominated and to sound them out. Make sure to give them a sense of the timeline for their term, if they accept. If the nominee has interest, send him/her the board job description. Set up a time for a follow-up call or coffee.
  • If you only have three vacancies, once three nominees have accepted, do not contact the other three!
Step 5: Ratify the slate about two months before new board members take office.
  • Send the slate (and a short bio of each nominee) to the board a week in advance of the board vote.
  • Inform the nominees of their election and set up a date for board orientation.
Step 6: Orient new board members before their first meeting.

This orientation can be as informal as a one-hour coffee with the board chair, ED, and perhaps the governance chair.
  • Ideally, all incoming board members should be oriented at once, because they benefit from hearing each others’ questions and concerns.
  • Present each incoming board member with a board handbook that includes a full list of board members and their contact info, a schedule of meeting dates, all organizational policies (bylaws, conflict of interest, privacy protection, whistleblower), list of board committees and the job description for each committee, sample set of financial statements, minutes and agenda from previous board meeting, and strategic plan.
Step 7: Design the new board members’ first meeting for maximum engagement.
  • Make table tents to identify all board members, take time for everyone to self-introduce, and allow new board members to speak about why they accepted the nomination.
  • Consider appointing an experienced board member to be a mentor/buddy for a new board member. New members often have questions that they don’t want to voice in front of the full board.
Susan Nicholl is executive director of the MetroWest Tourism & Visitors Bureau. Email her at or call 508-864-2724.

September 2015