The board should recruit and select individuals with a strong commitment to the organization’s mission and success. The board should have a clearly documented process to recruit, select, and orient new board members to make sure the ideal people are in place and have access to the right information to best serve the organization. Your board’s plan should describe the skills, experiences, connections, etc. you are looking for in new board members. The recruitment and selection process needs to align with board bylaws and governance documents as well as minimum requirements set by the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act.
As you think about recruitment, begin by identifying an ideal size and composition of board members that allows the board to meet its responsibilities and make informed decisions. Also, set clear procedures for term lengths, limits, rotation (term staggering), and board member removal, which should all be outlined in the bylaws.
To meet the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act requirements, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations must have at least three board members (although, fulfilling board responsibilities may be challenging with such a small board). Without a strong board chair or president, having a large board (generally, greater than 15 members) may also pose challenges. In considering board officer positions, the board needs a president, secretary, and treasurer. Under the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act, the president and the secretary may not be the same person. If a staff member serves on the board, their service is in an ex officio capacity, and they do not vote.
Assess your board and organization’s current stage of development and think about where you want to be in the next couple of years. Make an intentional plan for outreach and relationship building that leads to new board member opportunities in support of the organization’s growth areas, unmet needs, and deepening community connections. Creating a board matrix that lists current board members’ skills, experiences, connections, areas of interest, personal demographics, board terms, and more can help you develop an outreach and recruitment plan. The board, or board development committee if you have one, should discuss categories and information to capture as well as the preferred formatting that will best support recruitment.
Ideally, your board membership is reflective of the community served by the organization and includes members with diverse skills, expertise, and experiences. Before beginning community outreach and recruitment efforts aimed at increasing board member diversity, the board should undertake deeper reflective work to understand the current board culture and operations. Also, consider if there are volunteers or individuals already involved in your nonprofit’s work who would be ideal for the board. By taking these purposeful actions, the board may identify candidates or changes that need to occur to create a welcoming environment that supports all board members’ participation.
The ability to clearly describe the board service opportunity, and the responsibilities if selected, is an important part of recruitment. Having a board member position description, a board application form, and any other key information pulled together for prospective board members is helpful.
Whether you have a board member position description currently or not, taking a moment to pause and assess the position can be helpful. If you are creating a board member position description for the first time, use the prompts to spark and organize your thoughts. If you already have a position description, use this activity to identify any items that may be missing or need clarification.
Board Member Position Description Resources
A job description for board members, as well as officers, is helpful for current and prospective board members. The ability to clearly describe the board service opportunity, responsibilities, and expectations is important for any recruitment, selection, and orientation process. Use these resources to assist you in building your own board member
Creating a selection process that provides a positive experience for everyone involved takes forethought and intentional design. This includes responding to prospective board members in a timely manner, even those not invited to join the board. If you have new board member candidates who are not selected, those individuals are still part of your nonprofit’s larger community, and you want continued good relations even if they are not on the board now. Remember, the first significant interaction with a new board member candidate may be through the selection process. Spend time planning, preparing, and shaping a deliberate selection process. When you complete your selection process it is important to thank all candidates by phone, email, or letter.
Unconscious or implicit bias is inescapable in a selection process, and your goal will be to minimize this as much as possible. During the selection planning process, you may decide to assemble a selection committee or team of people connected to your nonprofit. Think about the selection committee size – a few people provide more perspectives to the process, but too many people involved can be intimidating for a candidate. During the selection process, ensure you ask the same questions of each candidate. Setup a standard selection assessment or evaluation format that is transparent and explainable.
Before you begin reviewing new board member applications, take time as a team to discuss and question your implicit biases. Board members may be influenced by a candidate’s appearance, age, manners, or other factors in their initial impression. Let go of snap judgments and dig deeper to make sure you are inviting the best person for the role to join the board.
You made your selection, now is the time to onboard and set the new board members up for success. There are many board responsibilities and details to initially convey, so take time to prepare for your new board members to start. Also, consider how your board culture and organizational values tie into creating a welcoming environment for new board members.
Sourced from Technical Assistance for Community Services (2004) and adapted into the following worksheet, the Board Orientation Checklist provides a solid starting place for developing your nonprofit’s own orientation process. Review each of the checklist items, mark whether this is something your board currently does, and capture any notes or next steps in the space provided.
Conflict of Interest
The board needs to ensure individual board members do not have any undocumented conflicts of interest that would affect the organization’s wellbeing. The board’s approved Conflict of Interest Policy should be reviewed and signed annually by all board members. A reasonable effort must be made to determine board independence. At least a majority of the board needs to be independent. Generally, this means that board members (or their family members) do not receive compensation (other than reimbursement for board-related expenses) or contracts with the organization. Loans to board members are specifically prohibited.