Bringing together the right mix of people to serve on a board is one of the most important tasks a board will face. Before you ask people to join, do your due diligence. Building a strong board is a process. It starts with assessing current membership to identify need. Then go on to gather information on potential people of interest, evaluate the best fits, recruit, screen and, ultimately, provide a meaningful and informative orientation to new members. This process should identify the people who will be tasked with this responsibility; whether that be the full board, a governance committee or a special nominating committee. You may want to consider bringing together a group of community members to help pull together names of potential members.
Who is on your board now? Many program boards utilize the assistance of a "board matrix" to visually track the current membership. Seeing where your board has openings is a useful tool to start identifying community people who might provide the experience necessary to benefit your board. A sample board matrix can be found in the resources section.
Resource suggestion: "Blue Ribbon Nominating Committee," posted on the Blue Avocado website.
This is a job search, so take your time. Asking individuals to join your board, should send a message that this is an invitation to be part of a very important organization that provides a meaningful service to the children of this community. Recruiting can be initiated with a conversation that includes talking points about your organization along with questions posed to the potential board member.
We ask our volunteers and staff to complete an application, why not board members? Asking potential board members to complete an application during the recruiting process is an excellent way to gather information on the applicant while also conveying the importance of the process to the potential board member. It is a good idea to send a board member invitation packet, which includes a letter or note along with the application, informing the potential recruit of the timeline for reviewing the application and when they can expect to hear back from the board. Additional information in the packet should include a program information page and a current board roster.
Resource suggestions: Samples of a board member application, a board member application letter and a board member contract
Once the applications are reviewed, it's time to set up personal interviews with the selected nominees. The interview team should include a current board member and the executive director. Have your questions prepared so you have consistency in all the interviews. The interview is also a great way to give the potential nominee an opportunity to learn more about your organization and what will be expected of them.
After applications and interviews are completed and the committee determines the final list of nominees, a slate of nominees is presented to the board for approval. If all nominees are accepted, the next step is to speak to the new board members individually and officially invite them to join the board. If the nominee accepts, explain that following the background check, you will follow up with additional information and an invitation to a board orientation.
Round out your board membership process by providing your new board member with an informative board orientation. This training time gives you the opportunity to inform and energize your newest members. Whether you meet individually or with several new members, it is good to have a board orientation checklist to follow and maintain consistency. Bring together a current board member or two and the program's executive director to give the perspectives from different viewpoints. You may consider assigning a board member at this time as a mentor or board buddy. It is important to also provide the new board member with a collection of documents and information that will be important for understanding and executing their board responsibilities.
Retention and Recognition
Retention and recognition go hand in hand. Programs should endeavor to recognize and retain board members in the same ways they work to recognize and retain advocates. After all, board member are volunteers as well!
To begin, it is wise to understand the importance of keeping a board member engaged and feeling valued by the organization. Often, programs focus on their volunteer ranks but neglect to see the value of recognizing the work and dedication of board members. Don't wait until a board member resigns to present them with a plaque or coffee mug! Remember to show appreciation often while they are active members and in a manner that is meaningful to that individual.
When board members participate in the board orientation, it might be helpful to learn more about them and what motivates their volunteer work. Be especially mindful of the talents of each individual member and work to utilize those talents for the organization. Retention will be difficult if a board member feels that they are not valued.
Try to make recognition a frequent activity. Mentioning a board member's extra work at board meetings can be a great way to thank them while also motivating others. Birthday and anniversary cards are nice, but try to expand to notes from "out of the blue"; ask the judge or a volunteer to sign a thank you note to a board member for helping the program thrive. Put something in the community paper or program newsletter. Have you thought about sending a note to the board member's employer letting them know how much the program appreciates their dedication? Frequent and meaningful are two words that should guide your recognition plans.
Resources for Developing Board Membership