10 common mistakes in recruiting new board members

Recruiting new board members is one of the most important tasks your community group will undertake as the make-up of your board will determine how and how well it functions. We compiled this list to help alert you to some of the common mistakes that occur during this process – and how to avoid them.

1. Dazzled by brilliance

The greatest person in the world (or the most popular, or the richest, or the most high-profile) may not necessarily make the greatest board member. For one, they may be so busy with their other commitments (which have, after all, helped them achieve their most popular/richest/famous status) that they have little time to give to your group. Or they may be used to operating solo and have few team skills. While a high-profile or highly respected board member can help to lift the profile of your group, if they can't offer the commitment necessary for a board position, it might be best to use them in your fundraising events instead.

2. Skills mismatch

There is no point in having a board full of brilliant financial minds and no one with a head for strategy. Similarly, a board full of strategists who can't make the books balance is also of little use to your group. You need to make a list of all the skills you need to ensure your board is effective, and make sure you fill them. Look for people with multiple skills, who can fulfill more than one role.

3. No checks

It can be an enormous relief when the name of a prospective board member drops in your lap – but this isn't an excuse to just breathe a sigh of relief and sign them up. All prospective board members – even those who come highly recommended – need to be screened to ensure they will be committed to your group and that they have the right skills and experience.

4. Heart's in the wrong place

Similarly, you need to find out whether or not the prospective board member has put their name forward for the right reasons. If they are simply trying to big-note themselves and have little or no commitment to your organisation, it is unlikely that they will make a significant contribution.

5. Jobs for the boys

As mentioned above, word-of-mouth recommendations can present a relatively pain-free way to replace retiring members. And just because they are recommended by someone already involved in the board does not mean they can't make an excellent contribution. However, be wary of people trying build their own "empire" on the board by stacking it with sympathetic friends or colleagues. The first priority must always be to the group, not a particular individual within it.

6. Conflicts of interest

Businesses or interest groups closely aligned to your group's mission may be a great place to look for board prospects – but beware of conflicts of interest. If a new board member may one day find himself/herself in competition for funds, or for members, or for contracts, they may not be the best person for your board.

7. Split allegiances

Commitment to diversity is extremely important for a board, particularly those whose community groups serve a diverse group. However, recruiting people for your board who are drawn from (and expected to represent) particular sectors or segments of society can sometimes lead to members whose primary allegiance remains elsewhere. Again, you must ensure that all prospective board members know that their first priority in their board role must be to the group they are serving, not the one they are representing.

8. Not playing by the rules

Every community group should have a set of rules, most commonly referred to as the constitution or articles of association. These should spell out how and when new board members are to be installed. If the rules are not followed it may mean a nomination is invalidated. All board members should be aware of the rules before a recruitment process begins – and particularly before any offer of a seat on the board is made.

9. Playing it up

It may be tempting to paint board service in a very positive light, playing down the commitment that is required, the time involved in attending board meetings or functions, or the problems that the group is facing. However, while this may be a good way to attract a new board member, it is unlikely to make for a productive relationship once they find out (very quickly) they have been misled. Be upfront about what is required before you sign them up.

10. Selling yourself short

Just because you are not paying a board member for their service, does not mean you don't need to be picky about who you choose for the job. Settling for second best is not doing your group justice.