Board succession Part 2: Recruiting new board members

You should already have:

  • read Finding new board members;
  • thought about the direction in which your group is heading and what major projects or activities are in store over the next few years;
  • documented the qualities and skills needed to help lead your community group towards its aims;
  • identified the skills/expertise gaps in your board membership; and
  • decided whether your board could better reflect the diversity of your members/clients/community.

You now need to develop a pool of potential candidates. These people should not only have the required skills but should also care deeply enough about your group's mission to make a significant investment of their valuable time and personal resources in the group.

It may be a good idea to set up a recruitment or governance committee (if you don't already have one) to manage the process. However, all board members, the chief executive, ordinary members of the organisation and even staff can also be involved in recruitment.

Look broadly and keep the process active throughout the year, even when there are no current vacancies.

Step One – Working out where to look

Potential candidates can come from a huge variety of places. Think broadly about where your next great board member might be hiding. Prospects could include:

  • Friends/colleagues/associates of existing, retiring or past board members, committee members, staff or volunteers
  • Members of professional and trade associations related to your organisation
  • Donors
  • Local business owners
  • Volunteers
  • Members of volunteer organisations
  • Community leaders, including young leaders
  • Staff or associates of local education providers
  • Members of multicultural organisations
  • Members of local religious institutions
  • Interesting people who appear in the media or association journals
  • Indigenous elders
  • People who have benefited from the organisation's work
  • Professionals with in-demand skills, including accountants, lawyers, marketers, event managers, etc.

You can also search for prospects by:

  • Asking the board members (past and present), CEO, staff and volunteers for suggestions
  • Scanning local and other media (including professional association journals) for stories about interesting or motivated people who might suit your organisation
  • Checking the board reports from similar groups or organisations
  • Checking women's registers that are held by government agencies.

Recruiting from board committees

Some boards have advisory committees, which provide specialist advice when needed. These committees make good holding pools for prospective board members, enabling existing members to see them in action and giving them a chance to understand your group and how it works.

Recruiting from committees and encouraging potential board members to start as committee workers is a form of board apprenticeship.

You should try to give potential board members responsibility for specific projects that will show you their skills in planning, evaluation, and broader governance issues. As a committee member they will be able to clarify their commitment to the group and discuss whether they would like to become more involved in the future. It also allows the group to evaluate their potential at a relatively low-risk level.

Electronic searching

Another way to search for prospective board members is to use the internet. Use the free Board Matching Service for community and not-for-profit organisations.

Remember you will need to screen your prospective board members as you would any other volunteer to ensure they fit the needs of your group and to see whether they're competent, whether they get along with people, whether they are trustworthy, whether they have the skills you're looking for and whether they fit the position description.

Get some professional help

If you have specific skills you are looking for you might consider approaching a executive search company to ask them if they will help you out pro bono. Many companies are happy to contribute their professional services free or cut-price for not-for-profit organisations.

Get them to come to you

There are a number of ways you can encourage others to get involved in your group:

  • Advertise the fact you are looking for potential new board members
  • Hold information days, where others can learn about your group
  • Run publicity campaigns in local papers
  • Hold open days at your group's headquarters
  • Send newsletters to members/clients and other interested individuals or groups
  • Word of mouth is a very powerful marketing tool – tell your friends about your group
  • Distribute brochures about the group

Step Two – Building a prospect list

Once prospects have been identified the governance or recruitment committee should create a file for each of them, outlining their contact details and specific skills. The files should be regularly updated to ensure you have all the information you need on hand when a board vacancy arises.

This ongoing process of prospect identification and selection will mean that when the time is right to appoint a new board member, the hard work will already have been done.

Step Three – Getting them involved

Once you have built a prospect list, you need to start using it – even if you don't have a current board vacancy. You should sound out your prospects as soon as possible and try to get them involved in the group.

  • Telephone or email them and ask whether they would be interested in knowing more about your group.
  • Explain that there may not be a suitable board position right away but you are definitely interested in exploring the potential of a future relationship.
  • Send them brochures, newsletters, annual reports, and recent newspaper clippings.
  • Invite them to observe the group at work.
  • Ask them to come along to special events.

Be upfront about your intentions but don't be too pushy. Try to make your approaches as personal as possible. If someone says they are not interested, don't try to harass them into submission. A board member who has accepted a position merely out of guilt is unlikely to be wholeheartedly committed to their role.

However, don't write off a prospect who appears too busy to be involved at the moment. Keep in touch and it may be that a few months down the track their circumstances may change sufficiently for them to be able to commit sufficient time to your group.

As the relationship develops, invite prospects to undertake one-off voluntary tasks that suit their interests and expertise. If appropriate, ask them to join one of your board's committees.