How Do You Find New Board and Committee Members?

Nicholas J Price
6 min read
As you prepare to say goodbye to current board or committee members and to welcome in a new regime, try to think of the transition as evolution rather than dissolution or revolution. Effective boards and committees should be continually evolving, and that means change. Quality board and committee members are out there, so finding them isn't usually as difficult as you may think.

New regulations require diversity among corporate boards, but diversity is only one part of the equation. The National Council of Nonprofits suggests a two-pronged approach to recruiting board candidates ' vetting the candidates and cultivating interest. New board and committee members must have the right qualifications, skillsets and experience to enhance the board or committee on which they serve.

There are some differences between recruiting board and committee members for corporate and nonprofit organizations, but the overall goal should always be good governance.

Conducting a Search for Corporate Board Directors

Regardless of whether a corporation is small, mid-size or large, it's prudent to set up a nominating committee to do the legwork of board director recruitment. Nominating committees may also fall under the name board development committees. With the tightening of governance regulations, many corporations are changing their recruiting committees to governance committees. The first task of the committee is to write a clear job description of the role for which they are recruiting.

The governance committee does more than merely nominate board directors. First and foremost, they need to ensure that they know and understand current governance requirements and best practices and reinforce them with board directors. Their role is ongoing, as they should be encouraging continued board training and ensuring that board members are engaged in board work. Boards also need to continually assess any conflicts of interest to avoid potential legal concerns.

Governance committees may use multiple resources for identifying the best candidates for the board. Not surprisingly, some of the best candidates come from recommendations from current board members. Nominating committees should impress upon current board directors not only to look for people within their networks, but to look at the skillsets of people who don't immediately come to mind. Board members should also be keeping an eye and an ear out for potential candidates who express interest in serving on a board of directors. Boards that have the financial means may find it more expedient to enlist the help of a recruiter.

Before looking at the skills that candidates already have, search committees need to assess the types of skills that the current board needs to be effective now and in the future. This step requires assessing the current board's strengths and weaknesses. The search should focus on candidates whose area of expertise will fill any current deficiencies of board talent. Board vacancies can occur at any time, so it's wise for committees to keep a ready list of potential board candidates.

Today's boards are increasingly looking at younger talent pools where board candidates have experience in IT and social media. Candidates who are expert in these areas, and who also have the desired industry and functional knowledge of corporate business, including financial or audit experience, are typically strong candidates. When these same candidates have a stellar reputation for integrity and represent a diverse population, they generally display the total package of the ideal corporate board director.

The process of identifying and nominating board candidates should be deliberate and thorough. The first phase of candidacy should include scheduling a meeting with the board chair and the chief executive and inviting them to a board meeting. While the process of board director nominations is time-consuming and fluid, a careful selection process helps ensure effective governance.

Conducting a Search for Nonprofit Board Directors

In many ways, the search for nonprofit board directors is similar to the search for corporate board directors. Board candidates for corporations are often drawn to the pool because they are paid positions. Nonprofit board candidates are typically drawn to board service because they are highly passionate about the organization's cause.

People with a strong passion for the cause are usually active volunteers. The volunteer roster is a good place to seek board candidates because volunteers will be likely to uphold the organization's mission. Current board directors are almost always on the lookout for people who would be good additions to the board, but they may not bring names forth unless someone asks them directly.

A little out-of-the-box thinking often nets a few board candidates. Are there college interns who need experience to round out their resumes? Are members of donor organizations interested in becoming more directly involved? Every community has business professionals who are willing to donate some of their time and expertise to help out a good cause. The local chamber of commerce is a good starting place to find them.

Another good resource is the United Way. The United Way has matching programs where they match people willing to volunteer with organizations that need volunteers. This is a good way to build a cadre of volunteers that can be the starting point for finding a pool of potential board candidates.

Nearly all nonprofit organizations advertise and fundraise. Board members can easily put in a public call for the need for board members in their traditional media and social media efforts.

Similar to corporate board recruitment, nonprofit organizations are wise to assess what their board needs currently, as well as in the future.

Finding the Right Members for Committees

For all types of organizations, the board chair serves as an ex-officio member of all committees, by virtue of his or her position. Beyond that, the process of finding committee members is much the same for corporations and nonprofits.

Boards will find committee members in many of the same places that they looked for board members. Professional organizations, colleges, public announcements, social media and referrals from current board members are all good sources for finding committee members.

The premise of vetting candidates and cultivating interest also holds true when seeking committee members. It's important to identify the committee's needs and match them with people who have the needed skills, expertise, desire and time to fill the position. If you're not sure whether it's a good fit, invite a candidate to a committee meeting and see how it goes. Persistence typically pays off. If a candidate respectfully declines, it may be appropriate to keep them in the candidate pool and ask them again at another time.

Forming Plans for Continued Board Directorship and Committee Success

Nominating and electing or appointing board directors and committee members is just the beginning of the process of member selection. Boards should be prepared to orient new directors and committee members to their duties. New members should feel welcome and prepared for their roles. Current board directors or committee members are usually willing to serve as mentors.

Board members and committee members need to be good stewards of the organization's finances, assets, reputation and mission. If it quickly becomes apparent that the new board or committee member won't make the grade for commitment or performance, the board should be prepared to take action to replace them as soon as practicable.