Cultivating and Recruiting New Board Leadership

Arnee Winshall

Remember that not everyone you recruit will accept so make sure to cultivate a pool of candidates for each seat you have open.

Recruiting for Board membership is not just about filling a seat on a Board with anyone who is willing to sit at the table, nor is it just about honoring someone of great wealth and generosity. The membership of a Board has a direct impact on the ability of a school to fulfill its vision. Hildy Gottlieb, President of Help 4 NonProfits, whose books (including her manual on board recruitment and orientation) have become industry standards, asks; “So how can we improve the recruitment process? The first step would be to make sure you actually have a process!” Gottlieb and others recommend that the process of recruiting new Board members be taken as seriously as hiring someone for a position.

Structurally, this means that a Board should have a Committee on Trustees (CoT) or Governance Committee whose members include well-connected, thoughtful people who understand the challenges and opportunities facing the school. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), Independent School Management (ISM), and the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), the CoT is one of the most important committees of the Board. The three indispensable functions of the Trusteeship Committee are nomination/selection of new Board members, evaluation of the Board and its members, and professional development of the Board.

What does this committee do to help lead a successful Board recruitment process?

Step One: Figure out what/who you are looking for

Your Board’s CoT is responsible for developing a profile of the current Board, knowing who is likely to be cycling off, linking the process of creating the future profile with the school strategic plan which reflects an understanding of where the school is and what the vision is of what the school will become, and identifying what kind of people will help make this vision a reality. This profile should include not only the expertise that is needed but the qualities that will enable the Board to work effectively: team players, good-listeners, sharp thinkers, etc. The CoT should share its thinking with the Board and facilitate a discussion that engages all Board members in the process of considering what the ideal profile of the school’s Board would be and to the next step in the process.

Step Two: Create a list of potential Board members

Solicit suggestions of people who reflect the profile you have created. This is one way of taking full advantage of your network – your Board members, committee chairs, your staff, your parents, and your community leadership.

It is immensely helpful if the CoT has developed a system for keeping track of recommended prospects. Much like a donor database, this dynamic list should include a profile of the person including professional expertise, style of working, information about other Boards and committees on which they have or are serving, personal connections, passions, and demographic information, and, in addition, key relationships with those connected to the school and a history of the school’s cultivation activities and contact with the prospect.

Maintaining such a list or database provides the school with a valuable resource for filling open committee positions, through which the Board can cultivate the pipeline for eventual Board service as well as uncovering candidates for immediate Board membership.

Step Three: Prioritize the list and share the candidates and their bios with the rest of the Board

This is a step that many institutions skip. How often have you attended an annual meeting at which you are asked to vote on a slate of new Board members without having a clue who they are and why they were chosen? In addition to sharing the list of names, explain the rationale for choosing these candidates and how these prospective candidates can contribute to the future work of the Board.

The Jewish Community Day School CoT actually vets the candidates with the whole Board before we begin to engage with them about possible membership. Imagine the embarrassment of asking someone to consider joining the Board only to have a current Board member raise a serious objection once a candidate is already on the slate.

Remember that not everyone you recruit will accept so make sure to cultivate a pool of candidates for each seat you have open.

Step Four: Then develop a strategy to successfully recruit your top candidates

Begin by getting to know them as they get to know you and the school. If they are non-parent community members introduce them to the school by sharing with them school marketing materials, inviting them for a tour and visit, having them meet the Head of School, the President of the Board and other Board members.

If they are parents, take the opportunity to familiarize them with the strategic issues facing the school and its future, check with them and those with whom they have worked at the school whether they can separate their “parent hat” from an “institutional hat” that looks out for the long term health of the school.

Check for potential conflicts of interest; consider inviting them to attend a Board meeting.

When you are ready to invite a candidate to join the Board, in addition to ensuring he/she understands how they can make a difference on your Board, the key to successful recruitment is to have the right person ask the prospect. Just as in fundraising where people give to people, in Board recruitment, people agree to serve with people. Whether it is a friend, a business associate, the Head of the School or President of the Board, strategically decide who the best person is to extend the invitation to the candidate.

More and more non-profits are introducing actual Board application processes. The process entails inviting the candidates to apply to become a Board member. What I like about this is that it sends a message about the seriousness and privilege associated with being a Board member. Imagine a time when your Board is considered a “Board of choice” and there are more great people waiting for the opportunity to join the Board than there are openings.

Step Five: Now that they are on the Board, invest in them

The process does not end once a candidate has accepted. Investing in their success is an investment in your school’s success. Provide them with a mentor and develop an orientation that goes on over the course of at least the first year of service, gauging their learning, and, as different challenges and questions arise, providing them with background materials, and historical briefings that will enable them to understand the challenges and opportunities the school is facing. Check in with them periodically about how they are feeling and they can best be supported to maximize their contribution to the Board’s work.

A successful Board member who appreciates the process by which they were recruited and inducted will spread the word and be one of your best recruiters in the future! This is the beginning of a self-perpetuating process and a process that will help to constantly renew your school with energetic, enthusiastic, committed, and wise leadership. Remember effective Boards do not just happen; they are the result of intentional thought and strategic planning.

Some helpful resources: NAIS, PEJE, Help4NonProfits www., Board Source, Free Management Library ♦

Arnee Winshall is the founding chair of JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, MA. Arnee can be reached at [email protected]
Return to the issue home page:
HaYidion Board Leadership Winter 2007
Board Leadership
Winter 2007