Target More Specific Skills in Nonprofit Board Recruitment Plans
By: Eugene Fram
When the nominating committee sits down each year to fill vacant or termed-out board slots, their challenge is to identify the “right” directors for the organization. Typically, the group will work with a grid to define the types of skills they deem valuable to the board composition. While this kind of generic search (e.g. marketing, financial, human resource,) is adequate in many cases, the committee would do well to narrow the probe with an approach more focused on a candidate’s specific experience and skills. The quest for a “marketing” person might reflect a diverse range of expertise: marketing strategy, advertising, communications, media relations, etc. It’s important to know which of these
would be most helpful to help solve the current issues before the board. And if he/she passes this initial skill screening test, will the potential director have a reasonable dedication to the nonprofit’s mission and the broader outlook required for a director?
Nonprofits exist in many sizes and shapes– one director model does not fit all. Each organization has its own needs and issues depending on the current stage of its development. A struggling new nonprofit, for example, may need a director with promotion management experience to help develop the organization’s brand. A nonprofit planning a building expansion would benefit from the guidance of a director with architectural or real estate know-how. A mature organization could use a director with strategic planning skills to launch a marketing plan for the future.
One organization I encountered customized a recruitment plan that targeted the following skills to meet its very specific needs. (Previously, in seeking a director, a volunteer with marketing communications skills was elected to the board, but the person could not directly assist with the organization’s primary fund development need.)
Here are some added generic categories and their subsets that are worth pursuing in potential board candidates
• Financial Expert: Accountant, Banker, Financial Advisor, Chief Financial Officer, Cost Containment Expert, Securities Broker, etc.
• Human Resources Expert: Recruitment Director, Compensation Analyst, Benefits Analyst, Team Building Expert, etc.
• Manufacturing Expert: Systems Developer, Quality Control Expert, Purchasing Expert, etc.
• Board Expert:
1. Semi-retired or recently retired persons who can devote a great deal of time to board responsibilities, assist with community contacts and act as role model for younger board
members who lack working board knowledge.
2. Mid-career persons who have limited time available but who can personally apply specific job related skills.
3. Community volunteers, such as attorneys or physicians, with records of assisting similar nonprofit organizations.
Generic descriptions for nonprofit recruitment grids need to be more specific to make certain the skills are appropriate for the growth stage in which the nonprofit organization finds itself. One organization successfully developed a recruitment plan that targeted the following types of skills to meet its needs:
• Event Planner
• Venture Capitalist
• Banker heading a trust division
• An ED from a similar, noncompeting, agency
• Semi-retired or recently retired executive
A Caveat: When the nominating committee fine-tunes its recruitment plan to the current and more specific needs of the organization, the board will profit from the new and directed talent. On the other hand, a board does not need a network of specialists as directors who will contribute in the area of their expertise, then absent themselves from the other important work at hand, such as the business of the board. To find the “right” director, a nomination or governance committee must strike a balance between specialized skills, total commitment to the nonprofit’s cause and the desire to be proactive director. In the end, no matter how scrupulous the search, the ultimate success of the new slate of nominees, like other human selection efforts, can still be the luck of the draw!
You have mentioned a number of valuable points here to keep recruitment on track. I think the selection process goes askew when the committee gravitates to selecting candidates in their comfort zone, and people who will seem somewhat logical to participate in the organization. In order to take your points to heart, it should be emphasized that there is nothing wrong with recruiting someone for the skills/resources you think they will bring to the organization even if there is no pre-existing history with the organization. It always amuses me that there is a tendency to reward people already involved by nominating them for the board. Of course that can be a claustrophobic process as you are only enhancing your board with the kind of people you previously attract.
The comment below by Efraim precisely represents my own experience, observations and conclusions.