Recruiting the right board is the key to a strong, healthy and successful nonprofit organization. Yet too many charities view board recruitment as an afterthought and rush through a process that results in ineffective board members and weak boards.
Dolph Goldenburg shared techniques for recruiting the right board members at a live seminar at the CenterLink E-summit. With CenterLink’s permission, we are sharing this seminar as a podcast mini-series.
In this second half of the live presentation, we cover
- The board candidate vetting process
- Your board recruitment timeline
- Orientation of new members
- The 5 hacks for a better board recruitment process.
Listen to Episode 145 Here!
Timestamped Highlights from Episode 145
(1:35) Two ways to approach orientation
(5:02) – Candidate vetting process
(7:30) Checking references for board candidates
(10:58) Conduct your board orientation before you add them to the board
(14:37) Your board recruitment timeline
(16:09) Five hacks for a more effective board recruitment process
(19:10) Q&A with the audience
Episode 145 Transcript
Dolph Goldenburg: 00:00
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg. This episode is part two of the board recruitment series that was originally taped as part of a 60-minute seminar presented at the CenterLink E-summit in the fall of 2019. We divided the presentation into two parts in order to make the material fit better into your busy life. So if you listen to podcasts during a half hour commute or while running errands, it fits into that perfect window that most people like to listen to. In this second half we will cover the board candidate vetting process, your board recruitment timeline, orientation of new board members, and, of course, five hacks for a better board recruitment process. If you haven’t heard part one of this series, you missed some great material on identifying the gaps on your board, how to structure your recruitment campaign, and ideas for sourcing the best board candidates. So you may want to go back and listen to part one of this series if you haven’t already. But if you don’t mind getting your information without context or just really want to know the five hacks for a better board recruitment process, there is no law requiring you to listen to the first part before first. So dear listener, let’s jump right back in to the middle of the CenterLink E-summit presentation on recruiting new board members.
Dolph Goldenburg: 01:35
Let’s talk next about creating your on-boarding and orientation process. I’m not going to speak a lot about this, but I do want to touch on the topic. As you’re reaching out to prospective board members, it is very important that you’re able to say, “This is what your orientation is going to look like.” Now, there are typically two ways to approach board orientation. The first is what I refer to as the “firehose board orientation.” It’s common knowledge that we are supposed to drink about 64 ounces of water every day, right? That’s eight glasses of water every single day. Someone said, “Hey Dolph, you’re supposed to get eight glasses water, so we’re going to turn this fire house on and hope you can get the 64-ounces of water you need today.” I’d be in a world of hurt, and I wouldn’t get eight glasses of water.
Dolph Goldenburg: 02:25
That’s what the fire hose orientation looks like. We ask all new board members to come sit in a room for six hours and just inundate them with more information than they can possibly absorb in one day. Then, at the end of the day, we send new board members home with a big honking binder that reiterates all that information. And we say to our new board members, “Gosh, we sure do hope this is useful for you. Now you should be a fully trained board member. Congratulations, you’re on your own.” Now the other way to get that 64 ounces of water is to get a glass, go to your faucet, fill the glass and drink that eight ounce glass of water. If you repeat that eight times, you’ll get the required 64-ounces of water. And that’s the type of orientation that I recommend for nonprofit organizations. Typically what that would look like is three or four orientation sessions of about 60 to no more than 90 minutes each.
Dolph Goldenburg: 03:21
A good way to structure orientation sessions is immediately before the board meetings. This is one more reason why an annual recruitment campaign is essential – – – it ensures that all board members have their first meeting at the same point in time. You could have one orientation session immediately before the first meeting, and that first orientation session will usually be on governance. You’ll typically have some homework for them to do between that orientation session and the next one, and your second orientation session might be on programs. And again, that would be an hour to 90 minutes long. And you could have your final orientation session on finance and fundraising.
Dolph Goldenburg: 04:09
Some organizations break out that last session, so they’ll do a third one on finance and a fourth session on fundraising. But the whole point is that you want to break this material into digestible chunks so that people can absorb and remember the information. You also want to give people some homework between meetings that will help reinforce that information. If your first orientation sessions is on governance, for example, you can ask all new members to identify the committee they will join and attend their first committee meeting between this orientation session and the second orientation session.
Dolph Goldenburg: 05:02
Now let’s talk about what that vetting process is going to look like. The first thing, which I’ve already mentioned, is that you want to do an online application. It’s cleaner, it’s simpler, it’s easier. Every now and then I will have someone ask what they should do if a candidate can’t use a computer? There is a very easy work-around for this situation: just print the application for them so they can complete it offline. But trust me that the online application is the way to go.
Dolph Goldenburg: 05:48
Next we’re going to touch on your interview process for prospective board candidates. Schedule about 45 minutes for each interview and only have about 5 or 6 focused questions to ask during that time. These questions should help you assess candidate’s commitment and their actual bandwidth is. And, of course, you also want to make sure that candidates have the skills and connections your board needs. During the interview process, feel free to challenge people to really understand their commitment, bandwidth, skills and connections. There will always be a lot of follow up questions.
Dolph Goldenburg: 06:38
If you have more candidates than you actually have open positions on the board, I would recommend that you consider using a forced ranking sheet. As an example, if you have 10 candidates but only 4 open board positions, a forced ranking system will help nominating committee members make a good decision. If you aren’t familiar with forced ranking systems, it is a simple one-page document that you complete between each interview. So, you’ll always be ranking the candidates in your order of preference from the first interview until the very last interview. By doing this, it will be come much clearer which folks you should be bringing onto your board.
Dolph Goldenburg: 07:30
One of the other things that I always recommend is that you check volunteer references. This is sometimes controversial and some of my clients have asked if too many hurdles will turn off prospective board members. I always respond that it may discourage some prospective board members who are hesitant about having executive directors and other board chairs called to receive a reference about prior board service. But those hurdles aren’t there to deter candidates. The hurdles are there to help candidates prove their commitment to your mission and determine whether they’ve been a good board member elsewhere. Your best board candidates will have absolutely no issue with you seeking references from other boards they’ve served.
Dolph Goldenburg: 08:19
The first question you always want to ask about prospective board members is “did the person leave in good standing and did the person complete their term of service? ” If they did not leave in good standing, you want to know why they left mid-term to ensure the candidate is now in a place in their life where they have the bandwidth to fully serve on a board. And this is also a great opportunity to ask if the person collaborated well with others. It is really amazing how one bomb-thrower can really derail your entire board. Because that one bomb thrower can turn what had been really productive board meetings into what feels like horrible, agonizing meetings. So this is a great way to start to screen candidates and make sure that you’re not bringing people onto the board that are going to be counterproductive to your board’s important work.
Dolph Goldenburg: 09:08 Don’t be shy to ask about those growth areas for your board candidates. There are very few perfect board members out there and every one of us has some flaws. But you really want to go into this relationship knowing what a board member’s flaws are. Just as you ask about areas of challenge, also ask about where the prospective board member excelled. Wouldn’t you love to know, if a prospective board member was great at having conversation with major donors, was the perfect person to present once a year at an all staff meeting or was willing to call lapsed donors every December? This is also about identifying their strengths so that you can better engage them and utilize them as board members.
Dolph Goldenburg: 10:01
And then the last step of the vetting process is to check their social media and Google them. This is also a controversial step, but I’m not at all agnostic about understanding the board candidate’s online presence. Imagine if you were considering a prospective board member whose social media feed included transphobic comments. Wouldn’t you want to know that before they joined your board? Because frankly that probably should be a disqualifying factor for a prospective board member. You want to be careful about what you do with the information you find, but it’s good information that will certainly influence your decisions.
New Speaker: 10:58
Here’s radical recruitment idea that I’d like to share with you as part of your recruitment process Imagine if you did your 3- or 4-part board orientation first. What would that tell you about prospective board members? First, it would tell you your candidates who are going to flake out pretty early. Those folks that attend only half the sessions or do only a third of the homework between sessions. You’ll also learn who is non-responsive to email, voicemail and texts! Wouldn’t you want to know that before they join your board?
Dolph Goldenburg: 11:53
If you have candidates complete the orientation process before they are appointed to the board, you will also be able to see how they interact as part of a group. You could even offer a class orientation project. I only call this a radical idea is because nobody is doing it . So give it a shot and see how it works. I promise it will definitely reap dividends for you because you will put stronger people on your board and will have far fewer board members who flake out.
Dolph Goldenburg: 12:51
I’m going to speed through the slide on implementing your campaign because we’ve already covered all of this material. So once the board has selected the candidates who will join the board, you need to notify all the candidates. This is an area where I think a lot of organizations fall short. They do a great job of notifying the people who have been appointed to the board, but they don’t follow up with those who were not appointed to the board. There is no better way to burn a bridge with somebody than for them to apply to serve on your board, go through a lengthy process, allow you to vet them, and then not hear anything from you.
Dolph Goldenburg: 13:47
So please make sure to follow up with those folks who don’t get on your board in a compassionate but truthful way. To the greatest extent possible, be upfront about why someone did not make it onto your board.
Dolph Goldenburg: 14:37
When I work with a client on board recruitment, some people will tell me that this seems like a really long process. This process should take you about 20 weeks, and about 32 weeks if you include your board orientation as part of the recruitment process. You might spend one to seven weeks on planning the recruitment campaign – because the more time that you spend on planning, the better this campaign is going to be. To plan an effective campaign will take about seven weeks, and likely you’ll be ready to launch your campaign around week eight.
Dolph Goldenburg: 15:20
Once you’ve issued the open call for board nominations, you’ll need to allow about four or five weeks so that people have time to actually apply. Then you’ll close your nomination process about week 13. You probably want to vet candidates pretty quickly. You’ll have one or two weeks for interviews and then one week to finish your screening by checking references.
Dolph Goldenburg: 16:09
I also promised you five hacks for an easier more effective board recruitment process. Over the course of this presentation, I think I’ve probably already said each of them. So this is really just reiterating them. You’ve heard me say the first hack is at least five times already: hold an annual board recruitment campaign. It is far easier to recruit five or six or eight people to your board in a methodical and organized way. The second hack is to use LinkedIn to identify candidates. I just, I cannot say this enough. Most of us in the nonprofit sector are not using LinkedIn nearly as well as we could be. The third is to make sure that you are reaching out to the employee resource groups and business resource groups a companies that are within your community. And those could be corporate groups, and they could be groups at professional service firms.
Dolph Goldenburg: 17:04
The fourth is to make sure that you use an online survey for the application. Most of these survey systems will also allow you to have the person upload a resume or upload a bio or other documentation that you may want from candidates. The fifth and final hack, which is kind of the radical, is to conduct your orientation as part of the vetting process. So those are your five hacks for a much easier, much more effective recruitment process.
Dolph Goldenburg: 18:09
I want to make sure we leave about 10 minutes or so for questions. While you’re at the Successful Nonprofits though, I want to make sure that you are aware of everything that we do. We’ve got a nonprofit podcast a blog, and an email blast. We do all of those things at absolutely no charge to support the community. We are also consulting practice, and we’re one of the few consulting practices that has a public manifesto on our website. We only work with progressive organizations, and we offer strategic planning, board development, executive transition services, interim executive directors and coaching. Currently, my bandwidth is completely full. I’m not starting any new engagements until January 2020, but we’ll probably take on one new engagements.
Ana Machado: 19:10
Thank you so much, Dolph. This was amazing information. Often, we don’t think about all the nuances that go into recruiting and retaining board members. So, we really appreciate that you have given this this chat and this useful information to all of us. One of them asks, “For clarification, did you suggest that all board members be included in all interviews for new board recruits?”
New Speaker: 19:46
I am so glad you asked that question. I actually would not suggest that. And so I apologize if I said that. I recommend you have a governance committee or a nominations and governance committee and that committee be involved in the interview process. Of course,, the governance committee may decide to add one or two additional board members to help with the interview process. But really the core of your interview group is your governance committee.
Ana Machado: 20:09
Another question was, “You mentioned that no new board members should be made an officer. What if someone comes to you with excellent references and experience?”
New Speaker: 20:26
There’s best practice, and then there’s reality. So let’s look at two possible scenarios. The first is someone comes with excellent references and experience, but you already have one or two existing board members who would be great board presidents. You really want that person with excellent references and experience to understand the nuances of your organization and to understand your board’s organizational culture before they become the board chair or board president. So first go to those one or two folks who would make a great board chair and try to get them to step up. Now, worst case scenario is there is no one on your board who is fit and ready to be your board chair. Some organizations do find themselves in this position and, in that case you, you have no other choice but to bring that new person on as your board chair . But I have to say it’s not ideal and it’s a much more painful way to bring on a new board chair.
Ana Machado: 21:02
Got it. Thank you so much. And our next question: “When a candidate is not chosen because of their social media profile, do you think that reason should be shared when you inform that person why they were not chosen?” This probably applies to almost any reason about why you’ve not chosen a candidate.
Dolph Goldenburg: 21:56
You want to be as honest and compassionate as you possibly can be while also protecting the organization and any goodwill the candidate may have with the organization. While it probably depends what specifically on their social media makes you think they would not be a good board member, I am a believer in trying to be as honest as possible. As an example, if someone had shared something sympathetic to white supremacists on their social media profile, I would probably not have any issue explaining that we believe their values as an individual and our values as the board are not in alignment. I would further explain that we saw a values gap and did not think that the gap could be bridged while they were on the board.
Ana Machado: 23:03
It seems like we have a lot of questions so hopefully you can stay for a little bit longer. One of our next question asks, “How do you feel about family members on the board?”
Dolph Goldenburg: 23:19
No, every time. No. every way. And I can go a little more in depth, but the answer is no. First of all, you don’t want natural voting blocks on your board and, and no matter how independent people are, it’s always a voting block on the most important issues. You also don’t want clicks, especially family members that live together. And the last reason is sometimes families fight and sometimes families have drama.
Dolph Goldenburg: 23:51
The example I’ll give is that I love my husband. We have been together 15 years, sometimes he and I may have a disagreement in our personal life, which could bleed over if we were on the board together. And, by the way, my husband is not a member of CenterLink, so he won’t see this. And he also never listens to my podcast. I also love my sister and she and I have sometimes had disagreements and those would also would bleed over to a board we served on together. So the answer is no. Every time, every way. No. The other thing I’ve got to say just while we’re talking about families, is I think this is also true for family members of those who are on staff. Whether that’s a family member of your chief executive or a family member of your facility staff, there is an inherent conflict of interest preventing that family member from serving on the board.
Ana Machado: 24:46
Thank you so much for adding that last piece. That’s wonderful. And we hear you loud and clear. So next question, “How do you feel about board members who term-out than stay on the board in a different role?”
New Speaker: 25:03
I don’t understand that question. So from my perspective if a board member, terms out, they term out. Having said that, just as we have an on boarding process for new board members, we also need to have an off-boarding process for outgoing board members. For those that don’t know my background, I was a permanent chief executive for about a dozen years at two different organizations. And I’ve done a number of interim gigs at this point. So I say this from experience: How many of us have had a board member that rolls off the board because they term out, they were a great board, a phenomenal fundraiser. They understood board governance versus staff management. They understood their fiduciary responsibility, they were phenomenal board member. They termed out, and we didn’t ever hear from them again. They stopped giving 18 months or two years later. This happens all the time.
Dolph Goldenburg: 25:43
It happens because we don’t have an off-boarding process for our board members. Just as we need an onboarding or orientation process, we also need an off-boarding process that allows us to keep former board members involved, just not on the board. So when fantastic board member terms out, you need to keep them involved by having great things that they can do to really make a contribution with your organization, support your mission and keep them involved (just not on the board).
Ana Machado: 26:29
Wonderful. And then finally we have another couple of questions on diversity and inclusion. So I’ll start with one of them. Do you have any other best practice recommendations in regards to diversity and inclusion for recruitment and retention?
Dolph Goldenburg: 26:35
My best recommendation is that diverse and inclusive organizations have diverse and inclusive boards. While it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing, if a board has not already done the work necessary to really understand and engage itself and, and the work in diversity, equity and inclusion work, it’s going to have a much harder time building a diverse, equitable and inclusive board. So my other best practice is that the board has to do the work. The board has to be open and welcoming and understand the importance of DEI. They have to understand that it’s not just checking boxes, that it’s building a stronger board by creating a more inclusive board. So that would be my first recommendation.
Dolph Goldenburg: 27:31
My second recommendation is the board needs to be out and active throughout inclusive and diverse communities. That undoubtedly means being at events, and not just fundraising events. But other organization’s conferences, symposium and community building events. And, I know I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say this, but this is just not something that happens overnight.
Ana Machado: 28:06
Okay, great. And then as a follow-up to that question, we also have another question in regard to diversity and inclusion, which asks, “How do you assess your board representation of those communities?”
Dolph Goldenburg: 28:29
I think there are multiple ways to assess it. Part of it obviously is quantifiable, which can be done in your skills and gaps analysis. You can quantify your representation on your board, as well as the gender non-binary representation on your board? You can quantify your representation of women, of people of color, of diverse communities that you serve as an organization. But how you assess this also will go beyond that. I think that assessment happens again as your board is doing the time consuming but important work are around diversity, equity and inclusion.
Ana Machado: 29:08
Wonderful. And then finally, I know it’s time, it’s one o’clock, but I want to make sure we get through this last question, which is in regards to the recruitment profile, what are some effective ideas on how to share this document with the community for best results and recruitment of a diverse board?
Dolph Goldenburg: 29:25
I believe the best way to share this information is in your recruitment profile. While it is only a one page document, your recruitment profile is not something that should be written hastily. Especially when it comes to having an inclusive diverse board, your profile needs to highlight some of the specific needs that you have as a board as well as the types of candidates that you are strongly encouraging to apply. By doing that, you’re underscoring the high level needs and gaps of your board without making the entire needs and gaps analysis document public.
Ana Machado: 30:27
All right, great Dolph. It’s been a wonderful hour. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and best practices. And for those of you that are still with us, I want to just to give you a quick reminder now, we still have a lot of other sessions available. And you can go to http://www.lgbtcenters.org. Please make sure you check out our other E-summit sessions. Thank you so much for being here with us today. We thank you and hope to see you soon.
Dolph Goldenburg: 31:08
Thank you so much, Ana. It’s been a pleasure to be here.
Dolph Goldenburg: 31:13
Grateful thanks to a listener from Texas who shared with me earlier this week that the CenterLink E-summit page that I promoted in the first episode was not online anymore. I blushed beat red when I realized this, and we have restored access to the page now. So you can go to our show notes at successfulnonprofits.com to get the link to our E-summit page, which has all of the downloads that we mentioned in episode one.
Dolph Goldenburg: 31:40
This is the conclusion of our two part episode on board recruitment. I certainly hope you found it helpful and I really enjoyed sharing it both on the podcast and also as part of the CenterLink E-summit back in 2019
Dolph Goldenburg: 32:05
I’ve been speaking at conferences more and more lately and it’s been a real joy of mine to be able to share knowledge with nonprofit professionals and also with board members. So hit me up if you are putting together a conference and would like for me to speak, and if you are wondering how to reach me, you will always find firstname.lastname@example.org. And as many, many listeners can testify to, I respond to every email that I get.
Dolph Goldenburg: 32:24
If you have received value from this episode, please do me a favor and do yourself a favor by sharing it with a board or a staff member at your organization. When you spread this knowledge to colleagues, you sure that your organization is stronger and more vibrant. And of course, I always appreciate your ratings and reviews on your streaming app of choice. It really helps folks find the episode and once again, it helps spread the knowledge that we share for nonprofit professionals that, dear listener is our episode for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
Dolph Goldenburg: 33:10
I am not an accountant nor attorney and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.